By Tanaya Winder
West End Press (2015)
Review by Joan Kane
Few poetry collections seem enthusiastically positioned to maneuver through the expectations of the love lyric and the tensional performance of the composite genre that has dominated the poetic discourse since 2010. Words Like Love, at a prolific 100 pages, references and perhaps privileges its own modernity/ hybridity, and its willingness to adapt to multiple audiences with multiple expectations through its four sections—offset from each other through titles, epigraphs, and a transmuting #hashtag.
The hashtag device involves the reader in an already-heightened sense of audience, with perhaps a nod to social justice: the first section’s title page ends, “i write this without breaking my heart/#mantra,” and the final section ends, “i write this #withoutbreakingmyheart.” One wonders if the utility of the hashtag as an organizing principle is designed to build buzz, or to level criticism at the marketing of poems, or to categorize the poems within each section—to group together or set apart according to each hashtag. Two consecutive poems, “everything you need to know about relationships can be found in a bathroom stall” and “love on paper,” explicitly reference both the impermanence of a poem’s speaker and the implausibly infinite life of digital presence.
Given Winder’s public roles as a founder/editor of As/Us and as a widely networked motivational speaker, the gesture of hashtag as a reference to contextualization is one of the most interesting conceptual features of the book. It is less compelling as a semantic or syntactical one. Is the inclusion of the hashtag complicit in the colonization of digital space through perpetuating conventions of English-language internet use, or does it resist the tellability and tweetability of the narrative of the Indigenous woman?
Content-wise, the poems tend to cluster most densely around the nodes of the speaker’s familial (specifically maternal/matrilineal) relationships, as well as the speaker’s romantic life, with other poems relating either most directly to a narrative tribal history or to ephemeral aspects of contemporary life. The poems are at their strongest when they engage imaginative turns and figurative rhetoric, as in the reminiscence of braiding hair in “surrender to memory” and the carefully balanced lines of “entering the age of doubt.”
Less compelling is Winder’s tendency to cast poems in a passive voice with line breaks that serve to interrupt the lyric impulses of both the poet and the poem’s speakers, who at many presentations seem to be indistinguishable. With focus, the poems sing out and may flame with ardent heat.
Joan Kane (Inupiaq) is from King Island and Mary’s Igloo in western Alaska, and is author of numerous books and poetry collections, including the forthcoming Milk Black Carbon.