Madness

Sam Sax. Penguin, $20 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-14-313170-0
“You either love the world/ or you live in it,” proclaims Sax in a line that works as a refrain emblematic of this vivacious debut. It’s a quick-moving, wide-ranging collection, with Sax tackling mental health issues amid family anecdotes, amorous encounters, and evocations of the Holocaust and the AIDS crisis. By opening each of the book’s four sections with a litany from the DSM-I (1952) in various stages of erasure, Sax recalls an era in which homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder. When Sax is at his most inventive, his poems sparkle and haunt, such as when he concocts nightmares for a therapist “to decipher”; he writes, “I’m eating a plate of boiled peanuts—inside each a boy, winged + writhing + red.” Sax also excels at formal innovation, with no two poems appearing quite alike in their presentation. However, he often tries to say too much in too short a span, shifting among a dizzying number of subjects and styles; the meanings he tries to convey in a poem can become muddled in their own slyness or unfocused in light of the conceits established by his titles. Perhaps that is part of the point, though: “madness” is a transcendent term that describes not only mental illness but also wild ecstasy. Criticism aside, Sax sketches his own queer lineage with ingenuity and verve. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/18/2017
Release date: 09/12/2017
Book - 978-1-5247-0557-2
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