Hold Me Tight
by Jason Schneiderman
Red Hen Press, 2020

Hold Me Tight by Jason Schneiderman is a book of five sections that vary in style, tone, and form — it is a book of fables, fantasies, and hilarious futures. These are some of the book’s accomplishments, but they aren’t the book’s greatest — that distinction lies in Schneiderman’s ability to employ imagination without veering into decadence, an unfortunate feature of much contemporary poetry that often manifests itself in a kind of pornography of association. Schneiderman avoids that pitfall, and instead offers the reader, among other things, benevolence, malevolence, and hope, though that sentiment isn’t reached until the speaker’s despair is attested to in the opening poem, “Anger”:

                And she told me

                That I was OK,

                But the anger was there

                All the time,

                Like a pair of shoes

                That were always

                Between me

                And the ground I walked on,

                And I kept asking everyone

                How anger works:

                Can you drain it?

                Can you vent it?

One hears echoes of Byron here, an inverted sequel for the 21st-century — the speaker of this poem, however, walks in “a pair of shoes,” and in anger, as he asks the poem’s female character how he might shake off that feeling. The speaker asks after knowledge of the thing with which he struggles, a relatable course of action (a brief review of anyone’s search history proves this), and, more importantly, it’s one of the reasons people turn to art. Too, the strict four-line stanzas and the series of questions enact the methodical, unbreakable path toward self-destruction that anger always leads to.

One might be tempted to think that this poem is a bardic yawp, a self-involved screed of male angst. It’s not — at least, it’s not only that. Like the best poems and poets, Schneidermann writes on the seam between self and other, future and past — between the metaphysical and what’s right in our faces, with lines like,

                …and when you read

                Of this mass murder or

                That suicide bombing, know,

                These killers are not inhuman or monstrous,

                But rather that they are

                Weak vessels for rage,

                That they are balloons

                That have burst with their rage…

The poem ends just past these lines, the speaker having come back from the edge of such an explosion.

The second section of Hold Me Tight is fable-like, populated by scorpions, wolves, and other animal characters whose actions are alternatively sweet and destructive, qualities that rhyme with the ethos projected in the first section of the book. This second section, titled “The Book of Wolves,” reads somewhat like flash fiction — plots unwind past where the words stop, and the reader is often left with an incident that informs all of the characters (in one memorable section, a wolf leaves a wolfram for a fox that turns out to be a wolfbutreallyfox). Watching these anthropomorphic characters suffer the consequences of their own and their loved one’s decisions is hilarious, and each of these poems is immediate as you might expect, though not so much as to leave out what feels necessary. It’s not easy to write such poems without causing the reader to scratch her head.

And what of that imagination that avoids decadence? The poem “Voxel,” coming in the book’s penultimate fourth section, is an example. The word denotes a computer-generated unit of three-dimensional space, and the tone of the first line tips the poem’s hand, as it begins, “O newest of new words, / welcome to my mouth!” Not a new word, but new to the poet, and perhaps, new to poetry, or at least newish. Reflexive as the poem is, it isn’t precious, not infatuated with itself like so much imaginative and reflexive poetry tends to be — rather, the focus is on language (not its language, an important distinction). It is a love letter of sorts to the malleability and liveliness of words. The poem continues, “and now that we have / you, voxel, Plato will have / to let us back in his Republic / because we can print beds / and guns and pots and pans…” Then, these lines:

                voxel, everything is contained

                inside you—not fire

                perhaps—but our model

                Of fire—not affection,

                perhaps—but our model

                Of affection[…]


                Dear voxel, already

                I am beginning to think

                Of myself in terms of you,

                And Sweet voxel, the day

                Is coming when I will print

                My selfies as tiny dioramas

For all its acrobatics, the book is shot through with a subtext of grinding, steadfast hope. Hope in humans derived from the creativity and curiosity that always seems to catapult us into the future, whether by technology, poetry, or even the psychoses we all develop to get past trauma, or just to get through a day — even if that means catapulting into other, newer forms of despair. It’s poiesis, the spirit of serious-not-serious play-making, that hums at the center of Schneiderman’s book. In the final section, one in which each poem is titled some variation of “The Last,” the final poem, “The Last Black Hole,” gives us such hope more explicitly:

                …The last black

                Hole was the end of time, and then

                It exploded into a new time, and then

                There was a whole new universe,

                The one we know, and what is coming…

                The one coming will be

                A universe where nothing of us

                Will have survived, not even the tiniest speck,

                Except maybe the rediscovered

                Truth that there was a time in which we lived,

                Though this truth will be our truth,

                Not theirs, but you knew that,

                Didn’t you, that every truth we have

                Is a human truth, that as long as

                We’re the ones looking, everything

                Will always look like us…

                …and this

                I call faith, knowing that the last black            

                Hole is coming

Hayden Bergman
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