If you are one of those poor souls who associates poetry with purgatory, consider opening Janet Holmes' F2F ("Face to Face") to sample what you've been missing. While a book of poems may not have the hipster cachet of a late-night poetry slam, this slyly sexy volume is verse for grown-ups (and I don't mean your blue-haired high school English teacher). No rhyming couplets or iambic pentameter here; this slim, candy-pink book is more a double shot of espresso with Emily Dickinson than a chalice of mead with Chaucer.
What does it mean to speak face to face with another person? And what happens when people stop doing it? In her fourth volume of poetry, Janet Holmes, director of Ahsahta Press and associate professor in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Boise State, explores the effects of communications technologies on interpersonal relationships, revamping Greek mythology and dialoguing with Dickinson along the way.
F2F reads nicely in one sitting, with images, characters and vignettes circulating from one poem to the next. Devour it in an hour; you'll find more to savor on the next reading. This is a book (and an author) that invites the reader to sit down and actively engage.
Holmes revitalizes traditional themes. Readers will follow the bloom and fade of a romance conducted entirely via instant messages. Modernized mythological lovers flash in and out of view; Orpheus morphing into a rock star; Echo, an anorexic.
F2F asks you to meet the poet on common ground (meaning the text), suggesting a new relationship between author and audience. While references to Dickinson's words and her bittersweet isolation are briefly footnoted, you may find yourself going back to the bookstore for a closer look at America's favorite New England spinster.
Holmes' use of word play, her awareness of sound and her forays into the nascent and wide-open dialect of text-messaging are the leaven that lightens her potentially weighty subject matter. For example, in the poem "Lake," the phrase "point of view" echoes from "love you" to "if you," revealing the music of spoken language, as well as its potential for distortion. "Glassicaglia" (formed from "passacaglia," the Baroque dance, and the Biblical quote, "through a glass darkly") exemplifies Holmes' ample ability to play with hybrid and fragmented words. The recurring, shifting significance of the letter E (as in E-mail, Eros, Eurydice, etc.), as well as the works' varied voices and dialogic forms, give evidence of a poet skilled in the medium and implication of her craft.
The multiple fonts of the instant message poems are perhaps no more appealing in art than in life, which is probably the point: a realistic portrayal of instant message (IM) interactions to the letter. Less justifiable are the varying, often large amounts of white space at the bottoms of pages, which initially caused me some confusion as to where poems ended. Issues of layout aside, however, this book is an enjoyable intellectual and aesthetic excursion. In "To the Reader," Holmes observes: "as always/you get to say when it's over." As for me and this book, we're not through with each other yet.