The world of Meghan Privitello’s A New Language for Falling Out of Love is constantly about to fall to pieces, is fated for failure. The speaker is “a girl […] a small body […] barely a something.” Love itself is “not so different from a tomato. Useless seeds. A bitter red.” Erotic relationships are dysfunctional, “riddled with disaster”:
a child did a school project about us—line drawings of our bodies colored in with crayon, simple sentences saying Once the Man and the Woman were not in danger. But then their hearts got smaller. And after that, their brains stopped trying to do a good job. They are now scarce. They don’t know how to save themselves.
The collection shows the dangers of loving a world that “show[s] us something beautiful and take[s] it all away.” By “only lov[ing] what is collapsible,” the speaker constantly sets herself up for pain, even ruin. But despite the implications of the book’s title, she cannot renounce love completely. “Love me, whoever you are,” she pleads in “Rival,” “Love me in any failing way.”
The characters here are inept and maladjusted (“If I knew what key opened the door to how-to-act-alive,” says the speaker of “Forecast,” “I’d throw it down the kitchen sink”), swerving to avoid intimacy and responsibility: “Yesterday, we made a fort out of blankets and sheets and became strange children. Tomorrow I am still running away after you reached for my tiny hand.” The voice is similarly childlike in its ramblings: “Tell me, how tall are you on a planet that worships miniature horses?” the speaker asks her lover in “Nomenclature.” “How clean are your armpits compared to the bum who sells eggs disguised as embryos?”
Taken individually, these poems are startling, magnetic in their strangeness. But as a collection, they run the risk of monotony. Each poem’s stream-of-consciousness divagations are demanding, and reading sixty poems in succession is exhausting. With little variation in structure, voice, or form, the poems tend to become predictable, even interchangeable, their whimsical dissociations less and less surprising as the book goes on. The perversity of the speaker begins to seem forced, the voice trying too hard to be idiosyncratic. Given all this, A New Language for Falling Out of Love is, perhaps, at its most compelling when encountered in small, intoxicating doses.