Book Reviewed: Crush, by Richard Siken
Being a poetry enthusiast often means feeling alone. So many people have such strong feelings against poetry that it's not often worth convincing others of its inherent joys. My friends don't like poetry; my family wants nothing to do with it (unless, of course, I wrote it). When I read a great poem, there's really no one to share it with now that I'm out of college. Even when I was in school, it wasn't easy to find fellow poetry lovers.
That's why it's so wonderful to find a poetry friend. My junior year of college, I had a good friend who was a year older than me. We had a few things in common, but we didn't talk about our personal lives all that much. Instead, we were book friends. We set time aside to have lunch at least twice a week, and good writing filled our conversations. We bonded over a mutual obsession with Rainer Maria Rilke. This friend loved Rilke so much that she would memorize his poems and recite them on the spot. Whenever she read anything good, she told me about it. That's how I first encountered Richard Siken's debut book of poetry, Crush. She was assigned the book in a seminar, and she came to our lunch meeting one day and shoved an open page of the book at me. "You have to read this," she said. For years, the only things I remembered about that book were its front cover (and if you've seen it, it sticks with you) and a poem where the speaker claimed to be the dragon of his story. To this day, I remember those lines.
When I decided to immerse myself in good contemporary poetry this year, I went on a search to find this book again. Once I finally discovered who wrote it and what the tile was, I requested it from the library right away. And holy shit, am I glad I did. You guys, this book blew my mind.
I'm not sure what it is about Crush and Siken's writing that I love so much. The poems in it are quite different from the kind of thing I normally read. The imagery is very erotic, very violent, and very simple. But the whole thing is very intense and beautiful. A few of the poems made me gasp as I read them. This is as startling and gorgeous as contemporary poetry gets.
This book made a pretty big splash when it came out. It was named the 2005 pick for the Yale Series of Younger Poets (probably the most coveted poetry award in the United States, given only to debut poets under the age of forty). Critics loved it. Of course, its themes of homosexuality and obsession made some non-fans as well. For this reason, I wouldn't casually suggest this book to just anyone. But if you are a serious poetry lover, or if you want to read something that is just different from your normal picks, you have to pick this one up.
Only a couple times in my life have I read a book that physically pained me, the kind of book where you have to hold your chest to keep your heart from falling out. That's exactly how I reacted to some of Siken's poems. I loved loved loved Crush! In the last couple years, I've lost touch with my poetry-loving friend. But I will always think of her fondly for the sole reason that she introduced me to this book that made me remember why I read and write poetry.
Note: If you want a look at Siken for yourself, I suggest my favorite poem of his (the one with the dragon!), "Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out." I'm not posting a specific link to it here because it's hard to find one where the poem is formatted right without spelling errors, but if you type the title in on Google, you can find the poem for yourself. Enjoy!