Infinity Standing Up
reviewed by KENNETH POBO

Capturing Fire Press, 2019

In junior high I got introduced to the sonnet. I didn’t enjoy poetry, didn’t see much point to it, and the “great” sonnets felt remote. At thirteen, I was looking for Tommy James and the Shondells, not Shakespeare. I wish I had read a book like Infinity Standing Up then. My feelings about the sonnet would have been quite different. And with the gay content, I would have found a voice I needed in the deadening silence regarding gay sexuality around me.

Infinity Standing Up chronicles the rise and fall of a relationship, moments of joy, moments of calamity. The sonnet proves to be adaptable to a variety of emotions and situations. It can be horny or harried, light or dark, or welcoming of many emotions in one fourteen-line pattern. One book that comes to mind when reading Pisarra’s book is George Meredith’s Modern Love, fifty poems that chart the demise of a relationship. Meredith used sixteen lines rather than fourteen and his book feels like a condensed novel as does Pisarra’s. The narrative keeps centered on the relationship. We see the speaker’s changes up close, almost as in Bergman close-ups.

Pisarra divides his book as if it is a drama: Act 1, Act 2, Act 2A, Act 2, and Act IV. Perhaps there can be no third act, nothing so final, as we enter the meditations about the relationship and its ongoing impact in the speaker’s life. The last poem, “Sonnet #,” takes place in a therapist’s office. The speaker begins to spill more information on the ex-lover—only to hear the therapist say that his time is up. That does make for a strong ending. At the moment of articulation, something interrupts. Closure gets blocked. We may seek help but it doesn’t come. 

Yet the collection is much larger than the final poem. The speaker can be quite humorous (the sonnet aides his humor, often through his choice of rhymes) and one never knows, even in a first read, which emotions are going to bubble up. Surprise is key. Had he written a more traditional narrative (“this happened, then this happened”) we might become bored after the first poems. I didn’t get bored because I didn’t know what to expect. The sonnets keep crackling along. I didn’t know if I should be pulling for these guys to get together or if I should be happy that they go their separate ways.

Surprise comes partly because of the cool titles. Here are a few: “Sonnet 8X10,” “Sonnet 370 B.C.,” and “Sonnet 666.” Such titles make it impossible to figure out in advance what is going to happen. In this way, they mirror the relationship itself. It unfolds before the speaker as it unfolds for us.

Pisarra has a page-long introduction called “Intro: In Bed With the Muse.” In that single page, he raises twenty questions. The book may in part attempt to answer those questions (or partly answer them), but the questions remain. They shine a light on each sonnet. Some questions relate to the sonnet as a form—and how this form will work to get at essential questions and concerns about the relationship.

Hand in hand with surprise comes humor. In the first poem, the speaker addresses the lover: “Devour me! Think me not some crazy nut. / This love’s a gas so shoot me out of your butt.” It takes a cliché, love’s a gas, and turns it on its head (or should I say ass?). “Sonnet X + Y” employs black humor to contemplate Frankenstein. In lines 11–12 “What started/ as a bold experiment failed. Now what to do?” He considers the possibility that Frankenstein is actually a “bromance.” The inventor and the creature in a kind of love but unable to really connect. Maybe a Brokeback Mountain only with monsters and a mad scientist.

My personal favorite usage of sound is “Sonnet B2” which begins “B is for brains…” In fourteen lines the sound of the letter B occurs 55 times if my addition is correct. This could get silly or annoying in the hands of a lesser poet, but Pisarra brings a great buzz breaking throughout the poem. Who knew that the letter B could be so fun?

Many readers, gay or straight, have had difficult relationships with lasting effects. This book is for them. It isn’t a pity party and it isn’t a sitcom where everyone hugs in the last five minutes after many misunderstandings. The resolve doesn’t come as it often doesn’t come in life. We live with questions, kick at them, joke about them. This book gives us the courage to be inside those questions. The speaker opens his life. No closets here. These sonnets sing even when singing is nearly impossible.

KENNETH POBO has two books out in 2019: The Antlantis Hit Parade (Clare Songbirds Publishing House) and Dindi Expecting Snow (Duck Lake Books). His work has appeared in Hawaii Review, Mudfish, Nimrod, Amsterdam Review, Two Thirds North, and elsewhere. He teaches English and creative writing at Widener University.

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