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Orange Roses

ivescoverIn “Orange Roses,” included in her 2013 book of the same title, Lucy Ives writes: “Reason is a language. In this sense it is no more or less perfect than any other language.” This statement about reason suggests that reason is merely an option, among many equal competitors; that there are methods other than reason that can be useful for communicating ideas. This line is interesting when we examine “Orange Roses” in its entirety. Oxford defines reason as “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgements by a process of logic.” With this in mind, we wonder: is her writing logical? Does Ives use reason? Perhaps she utilizes some other language. Questions of reason are a good thing to be mindful of while reading the entire book, because in a lot of ways, Orange Roses is a book about reason, about making sense.

Orange Roses has been described by some reviewers as a collection of poems and essays, but in my view, every entry in this book can be classified as a poem. Perhaps this is because a central theme to Ives’s work here is an exploration of what it means to be a poem. By exploring this theme, Ives is persuasive because she challenges us to view works like “On Imitation,” a sprawling 10-page essay accompanied by photographs, alongside more obviously poetic works. For example, “European,” the poem where we first see an allusion to orange roses, is definitively a poem; it is made up of six fragmentary lines separated by breaks of varying size. “In Sonnets,” an assortment of five trains of thought (of fourteen lines each), is obviously poetic, too.

Further complicating matters is the inclusion of “Early Poem,” which includes the word “poem” in the title, but doesn’t make use of line breaks, and yet is crafted in such a thrilling way that it feels almost sacrilegious to call it an essay. Almost every sentence in “Early Poem” contains a reference to the sentence itself. For example, the fifty-fifth sentence in “Early Poem” is, “Sentence fifty-five is a sentence about picking up the phone.” This obsessively self-referential storytelling makes us think about language in ways that force us to examine genre. “Early Poem” is just one of several poems in this book that blurs the line between language and content; that is, the language is the content. In this way, Orange Roses is persuasive, but it doesn’t persuade its reader of the answers to any questions. Ives’s book convinces us of the questions we should be asking. What is a poem?

If Orange Roses is an exploration of the poem, it is equal parts an exploration of the self. Which self? In the first entry in this collection, “The Poem,” Ives writes that “The fallacy of the poem is beautiful because it is already the embodiment of a reader….” Is the self we are exploring ourselves, then? It is no accident that Ives’s observation about “the fallacy of the poem” is the very first thing she wants us to read. If, throughout the entire book, we keep in mind her assertion that poems are “embodiments” of us, the reader, Ives amplifies the quality of wonderment that her poems already have on their own. The poems in this collection make my brain tingle, because Ives asks us to fathom what a poem would be without a reader. It wouldn’t.

Perhaps the self we are exploring here is actually herself: Lucy Ives. It is worth noting here that the only time Ives includes her own name in the collection is in the final stanza of “Orange Roses,” a stanza that is scratched out with a strikethrough. What do we make of the fact that the only time Ives includes the word “Lucy” she crosses it out? Perhaps it is a rejection of the self. What do we think of the revelation that the poem “European” appears again, in its entirety, 28 pages later, in the longer work “Orange Roses?” Does it evoke a sense of nostalgia for an earlier time in the book, by extension evoking nostalgia for an earlier time in the reader’s life? Or in Ives’s life? Again, Ives doesn’t provide any answers, but the beauty is in the questions.

How does Ives achieve this sense of ambiguity? She cleverly plays with meaning. Several of Ives’s lines don’t need a deep reading to reveal their multiple meanings. For example, in “Catalogue,” Ives offers us the line, “They lay in bed; more honestly, on the floor; most honest, nude on the carpet under a blanket except for their socks.” Does she mean they are nude except for their socks? Or does she mean they are completely under the blanket except for their socks? In such a mundane way, Ives makes us wonder what she means. It’s delightful.

With the closing line of “Early Poem,” Ives makes us interrogate her intention even further. “Please never forget I was the one who told you that,” she writes.  The word “that” is not original or especially exciting. But it can be interpreted in at least two intriguing ways. “Early Poem,” which up until this point has been a collection of ninety-nine correctly punctuated sentences, ends with this line, which is grammatically complete but lacks a period. Is this final line complete, and simply missing a period, “that” being used as a pronoun? If so, what is its antecedent? Or is “that” being used as a conjunction, thus implying that something is supposed to follow “that,” which Ives is omitting? Both options seem likely, and both readings of this line are packed with mystery.

Orange Roses reads like a glimpse into a poet’s personal journal. Ives’s poems appear to be simultaneously finished and incomplete. “Mind-blowing” is an overused phrase when describing books, but with Orange Roses, it fits the bill. “Thought-provoking” would be an understatement.

by Thomas Petrino

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