1. The architecture of this book is that of a home lived in for a lifetime and still being built. As a poet trying to put my first collection together, I find myself constantly starting from scratch. My belief in my work has a short half life. I am only ever comfortable showing about four or five of my most recent pieces to anyone, and so the 80 to 100 page requirements of most manuscript contests often seem mammoth to me. Albers wipes the floor with any such hesitation. In the introduction to Why I'm Not Where You Are, she states:
“The pieces are in chronological order, with an emphasis on the inspiration driving them, and have been compiled in the hopes of illustrating the growth of a writer throughout the course of several years […] I believe it is important to practice honesty and transparency throughout my journey as an artist. Rarely do we see writers putting their most vulnerable pieces out into the world, as if to say, 'This is who I was at the time of writing this, and this is who I am today. To erase who I was, in the hopes of emphasizing who I am today, is an act of destruction and, therefore, violence.”
While Why I’m Not Where You Are is a first collection, it reads with the emotional understanding of a collected works. The heartbeat of confessional poetics is not just imbued in the poems but becomes their backbone; sets the pace of how the intricate narratives in this collection fit together.
2. Why I’m Not Where You Are shakes off the chains of publication as perfection. Each poem's language is a journey. In the first quarter of the book, images of the speakers' viscera appear in poem after poem, spilling onto the floor before the figure of the speaker’s beloved. The lines,“9.25 ounces of/wriggling, writhing ventricles/is something akin/to poetry” appears in the book’s opening poem and later manifest as“I just chucked 4.6 pounds of intestines at your feet./If you’re not careful, my veins will trip you up” in the poem following. In the collections’ third poem, “4.2% of Patients Die from Open Heart Surgery.” Albers stretches the original image taut, turning the bloody squish of love, and the desire to give numerical exactness to the weight of one's feelings, into an extended metaphor. In “Poem for the Day I Deleted Him on Skype,” Albers writes: “My knees are bruised from all the/praying I’ve been doing of late;” and finally, on the next page in the poem “Family Tree,” Albers chameleons the line into “My knees are bruised from all my begging.” Here, through the course of four poems, is a young writer struggling with exactly where to put the lines she's proud of. Seeing these poems side by side, one must then stop to ask: when does prayer become begging? What's the difference?
There's a subtlety so fine to the way Albers builds her lexicon of images in these early poems that it's akin to watching someone inlay jewels with a pair of tweezers. The circling obsession with veins, guts, and universes is a microcosm of the process of encoding that germinates in all poetry. At the same time, seeing that obsession take form and flight, readers can be thrilled to joy as Albers finds new, fresher images, to recreate her own frantically expanding universe.
In the poem“Eve's Knees,” Albers binds both a new form and two new personae to interrogate themes that we, by now, know to be paramount to her: womanhood, humans devouring hugeness, and the sacrifices made in worshipful love (both for lover and beloved). The extended personification of “Dawn” manifest once again in the first section of “The Witch Hunt.”
“Everything speaks to the way
you left. The blinds are dusty
from days of neglect. Tonight, I stand, lamplight
in hand. Dawn disrobes.
I am left waiting for a man
who likes his coffee bitter
and his steak
Would “dawn disrobes” impact and reverberate in the solar plexus if we had not seen the entire draft it took to retrieve that half a line? In her website's biography, Albers calls her work “dedicated to expansionary, outward movements, and as the collection's title indicates this is book characterized by movement and separation. Each of the book's sections are divided by a graphic of footprints going down opposing sides of each page. These footprints visualize the journey Albers sends us ablaze on. As readers we watch in awe as Albers work expands both emotionally and syntactically.
3. This book is for you. In the poem, “A Step-By-Step, Instructional Guide on Being Messy,” Albers writes, “When you are used, leave. When you are bruised, leave. When you are not treasured, leave.” In this poem and in many others throughout the collection, the second person is the mask through which Albers clarifies what she wants herself to know; keeping herself at arms length, Albers speaks with a universality that embraces us all. In her poem, “Chimes,” Jeanann Verlee, a proponent of the second person poem, writes, “sometimes you takes the place of I.” This is certainly the case for Albers. Her poem, Hallelujah in Translation, ends with the line, “There's something in you Heaven has missed.” Albers’ simply elegant yet incantatory lines speak to us all. If you're heart has been broken (which...come now...), in this book you will find the a codex for crawling back to yourself.
4. This is an amazing book about disability...because it never mentioned once. The closest image Albers reaches for is:
“Your name tastes like
the medicine I used to take as a child to keep my lungs
from filling with fluid.”
It should not have to be stated that the disabled can have, and do want, relationships. Unfortunately, many see us as childlike, sexless people. Brianna Albers is a visibly disabled woman. In writing a book where the most prominent theme is love, Albers lights a candle to prove that our bodies fit together with other bodies; that we do not spend all our time thinking about our differences and mourning them like tragedies. Rather than making her disability the focus of this collection, Albers expands on God, on how sexy a Cadillac is, new red lipstick, how the hands of someone we barely know are more beautiful than a Russian novel. This is a writer who celebrates the specificity of what we all share as flawed scared beings who feel far too much.
5. Toward the collection's end, comes “Elegy in Shades of Prophecy,” which is a stunning expansion and culmination of all Albers' affirmations. The poem begins:
“We are prophets on fire, kids
with migraines, charting bodies
of cellulite and righteousness.
Make no mistake: We are
The press release mentions nothing
of our father’s decline in health.
We are here to bring sense
to a senseless world. Our songs rise
Albers ends the poem, “The air bends around us: / We carry the ends of our world.” This is the pinnacle of Albers' powers of positive truth.“Elegy” gifts readers with individual purpose and cosmic importance.The poem’s “we” encircles readers. In the face of all the forces that could destroy us—police violence, mental illness, global warming, corrupt politicians—Alber’s offers up human touch. These poems aren't read so much as they are received. Albers’ poetry seeks over and over to tell people that their every emotion is vital to the spinning of the earth.