restricted access The Science of Relationships
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The Science of Relationships
The Mathematics of Disengagement

Susan Hoover

Post Traumatic Press
78 Pages; Print, $15.00

inline graphic It was its fascinating cover and the explanatory note about it that first interested me in reading The Mathematics of Disengagement. To a large degree, the poems therein are faithful to the title's concept, which I loosely interpret as the science of relationships.

Interspersed, however, and including one whole section, are what I will call the "word poems."

The first few poems alone intimate this balance between persons and words. "Type of Arc" tells us to "Notice the voltage, the weight of certain moments…the evidence of molecular impact on // hidden agendas." This is immediately followed by "Erato Speaking Directly," which gives instructions to the poet on making a poem, "…leaving its last line / Jumping for joy." Then, in "Before Completion," the poet says, "I walk on your thin ice, / ignore warning voices hidden / in the wind," and I wonder if she is talking about a lover, writing a poem, or both.

Some of the poems in this collection eluded me altogether. One was "Pipe Dreams." Having read to the end of it, I returned to the beginning for a clue as to its meaning and was bemused by the opening lines, "When pipe dreams confuse the issue / of getting on with it…." Hmm. Aptly put. Others, I felt, simply work too hard at being clever. "First," for instance, consists almost totally of images such as "…pale etching…on the insides of your eyelids," and "…scattered stones romanced in triplicate." Pretty words that held no meaning for me. On the other hand, "Novena" is a truly touching love letter to an ill friend, and "Alliteration Personified" is a clever and amusing tale of a penis personified in 19 lines, all starting with the letter "P." Well done!

Nearing the end of section I, "Inviolable" is the first of the poems that for me clearly represents the kind of disengagement in a relationship that adds up to total anger, as implied in the book's title.

Rather than following a straight path, section II incorporates the aforementioned subject of words and writing alongside those of longing and despair that leads to the subtraction of love. One of the more successful of the "writing" poems is "Waving from a Wave," which begins, "She swims with words / As if they were a school of fish / In the turbulent ocean her / Mind at times resembles." and ends with the image of Erato "Occasionally surfacing on a roll in the surf, / Waving from a wave, high-fiving heaven."

The post-modernist "Xerox the Clouds" and "Post-Modern Musing on 'V' Words" that follows it are not fun or clever enough for me to spend the time to decode. Within this group I would add "Old Question," one of several of this book's poems arranged in a narrow string of words, sometimes only one on a line, lacking punctuation and often clarity. Following a most puzzling title, "Undermination" for instance, goes on to state, "Squirt / mace in / the eyes / of diminution / when it / throws / the punch first /." Sadly, I have no idea what this means.

One successful example of these linear poems is "Still—after Apollinaire," which pictures words as raindrops falling on the page "from / an / unknown / sky / beyond / your / control," and ending with "the / inevitable / dry / spell / parching / the / control / of / cloudburst." However, I found "Slow Waltz Around a Quick Point," which utilizes conventional stanzas and punctuation, to be an even better description of how words come and go. The "word" section would have done well to end here, with the punchy, "…drumming up / the kind of music to dance out of a bathtub for." "Message Received," the next and final poem in this section, thereby felt to me redundant and prosaic.

Section III brings us back to the title's "mathematics of disengagement," with its expressions of anger and longing, but "Riding out the Storm" is quite different. Although ostensibly concerned with the subject at hand, it seems oddly prescient as well for our current political landscape. It ends with...