cover image I Was Not Born

I Was Not Born

Julia Cohen. Noemi (SPD, dist.), $15 trade paper (126p) ISBN 978-1-934819-38-8

By turns charming, painful, and insightful, this absorbing collection from Cohen (Collateral Light) mixes all-over-the-place, speculative short poems with essays or diary entries about living with, and then leaving, a troubled and once-suicidal boyfriend. The poems sparkle and sputter in their undisguised daily-ness, their sense that they could let absolutely anything in: “Today/ I accidently [sic] dressed like a sailor:/ Today my heart’s a spigot”; “Next/ & naked, I wash the dishes to air-dry.” Verses about momentary discontents seem energetic, rather than frivolous, because they play against the serious troubles recorded in the prose—some of which expertly and strangely pursues moment-to-moment description, while other passages relate the difficulties faced by the first-person narrator in supporting, and then separating from, her partner, N.: “Questions I can’t ask: why didn’t you break up with me when you decided to kill yourself?... Or, what does it mean that you didn’t?” Cohen’s brave, strange chimera of a book achieves its power through the juxtaposition of its disparate prose and verse sections: the poems gain gravity, and the prose gets to stand beside creative work not tied to the facts of one (real or fictional) rough life. “In this ice-cube hour, I make myself visible,” Cohen says, and she does. [em](Dec.) [/em]