John McCracken is a poet and freelance writer from Madison, WI whose work has appeared in OCCULUM, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Pressure Gauge Journal, and more. He is the Co-Founder of Rare Byrd Review, a journal for young writers and artists. He hosts a podcast interview series that focuses on local writers through Tone Madison Magazine in Madison. For more, visit his website or find @jmcjmc451 on Twitter.

January 3, 2018
Edited by Stephanie Kaylor

John McCracken

Review of What Urge Will Save Us by Alina Pleskova

What Urge Will Save Us by Alina Pleskova Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2017 I read most of Alina Pleskova's What Urge Will Save Us while in the emergency room with my wife. It was nothing too harmful or life-threatening, but between her falling asleep and waiting for some test results, there was time to situate myself in the world that Alina Pleskova shapes. When reading a single poem, a collection of poetry, or an anthology, I feel deeply invested in place. I tend to look for ways I can be transported to somewhere else. I want to leave the silence of a living room, the humming of a coffee shop, or the sterile and beeping emergency room triage. I want the work to demand me to close my eyes and picture the landscape, to picture something I could be. Pleskova's landscape is not picturesque and serene. It is sharp and surreal. It clung to my worry early on and wouldn't let go. The world spits you up onto a rattling train to begin the collection. The first poem, "Q Train Poem", left me asking myself if I had done enough today. It left me worrying about all the things I don't know and taking stock of the things I hold true. The speaker keeps internalizing doubt but there are tinges of self-reflection and self-love soaked through these thoughts. I was reminded of all the things I have done wrong but found time to remember all that I believe to have done right. In this passage from "Q Train Poem", the act of blatant self-love shields the self from the fear of a dying world and financial worry: wore leggings that made my ass look, excuse me, pretty fucking great & paid off some but not all my bills & basked in the unnatural warmth of our dying planet it felt, excuse me, pretty fucking great The poems that come early in this book are also invested in showing some instability. Be it through love, life, or that same dread that comes with existing in a world that is decaying. Pleskova takes that instability and uses it to highlight the ways to stay afloat. There is a focus on reflection in these poems as well. "Wonder Wheel" allows for a moment of pause to combat uncertainty with blind hope. Pleskova writes to reassure the reader that having the answers or resources to knowing a solution won't always solve a problem: What I mean is, how doomed are we who despite our intelligence believe in retrograde panic & the redemptive properties of shoegaze raspberry kush ceiling fans blue moon magic sage the pull-out method a trap street in England called Lye Close it might all be real Here is where believing pushes the speaker through the doubt. The listed ways all help to cope with uncertainty. The desire to believe in something that will save you despite knowing if it is useful or even real is an act of defiance in the face of uncertainty. Alina Pleskova uses the weight and the stresses of the world to push the self to continue to want. She tackles writing about sex, drug use, and navigating both romantic and personal relationships in a way that brings a sense of ease to the conversation. The majority of poems in this book use repeating couplets to focus on the issues at hand. The ways she handles language and subject is supported by these repeating couplets. The poems teeter back and forth; being relaxed, almost comical in one stanza then mystically bleak. Pleskova also plays with language in an endearing way. The poems are laced with lines that are chopped up and short like they fell out of a group chat conversation. Then she turns the corner and drops Cyrillic into her poems. In "Alight", a warm and introspective poem, Pleskova writes: At least my reflection looks Russian, I think, then call my mother & see how long I can go without English interludes But I forget the word for restless, though she's been saying it my whole life long This passage shows that Pleskova also teeters in her approach to language because of the uncertainty of the self as well as the uncertainty of how to relay an image. These contrasting use of language build on each other to show the complexity of the speaker. After wandering through the precarious places and relationships that Pleskova writes about, the book ends on an eager and hopeful note. "Now That I am in Reykjavik and Can Think" is a poem that takes the fear and uncertainty brooding in the rest of the collection by the throat, just to give it a warm kiss on the cheek. This is the place I wanted to be transported to. It is swirling and infinite as she writes: Here as home as anywhere, I'm a Laelaps in runny nylons roaming from mouth to mouth, secrets left intact in the babble before I return to mortal with wholesome hemline, then the harbor solo to gape dumb at midnight sunset Pleskova tells of all the ways that she is learning to see the gray areas of the world that transpire between people, love, and hope. In the last three stanzas a beam of light cuts through: As muscle memory is made stubborn, so it can reprogram; like the trick where I pinch longing mid-shudder, save it for another time, get the shower good & scalding, head out divine & untethered into the endless day Pleskova knows that sometimes you will not be able to escape from the discomfort of the world. She knows that we're all navigating the world with a hazy glow clouding our eyes. Despite the ongoing unrest throughout What Urge Will Save Us there are moments that feel calm and restorative. Moments where the reader is asked to hold their worry in shaking, anxious hands and run with it. Visit Alina Pleskova's Website Visit Spooky Girlfriend Press' Website

Glass: A Journal of Poetry is published monthly by Glass Poetry Press.
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