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Coeur de Lion
by Megan Pugh
Summarizing Ariana Reines’s Coeur de Lion wouldn’t do this thoughtful book justice—it might sound too much like a soap opera for the hip intelligentsia. But the dramatic story—a woman, Ariana, addresses her ex after hacking into his Gmail account—isn’t what makes Coeur de Lion such a tour de force. Reines uses the love plot to investigate the nature of poetic address. She writes that she has been listening to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Italian opera to help her “feel the popular emotions” of an “I” for an absent “you”; ultimately, Reines is less interested in her ex than in that most popular poetic form, the lyric. “I’m so fucking sick / Of you, but that’s the real / Me talking, and not the me / Of poetry. Where literature / Is concerned, ha ha, I’ve still / Got work to do.”
Reines’s “ha ha” is wry, self-deprecating, fun, and bitter—adjectives that apply to her project as a whole. She zooms through her ruminations in steeply enjambed blocks of sentences she doesn’t even stop to title, making the whole book a single, long poem one can race through in a sitting. This speed gives Coeur de Lion a kind of chatty urgency: there’s so much to say, and no time to waste. And Reines makes her poetic manipulation explicit: “I am writing this / In order to lose you / For my own purposes.” If Coeur de Lion is a confession, it’s not just about psychology, but about the violence lyric exerts when it reduces experience into the supposedly universalizing but ultimately “closed / System of another person’s mind.”
Coeur de Lion is the name of both a French camembert and a French king, Richard the Lion-Hearted, whose Crusades in the Holy Land led to the massacre of Jews. This conflation helps us see lyric poetry as both a process of commodification and a domineering conquest. Reines writes that “fermented things” like cheese are “More unsettlingly animal, somehow / than animal flesh.” She wants her poems—experience that has been aged and squeezed into shape—to be animal too, but this means confronting the stink of brutality, in both literature and life.
Ariana learns about Richard the Lion-Hearted on the internet—the same place she learns that, throughout their relationship together, her ex had been sending lusty emails another woman, Emma, complaining that he felt trapped by the “pretentious gypsy Jewish goth,” Ariana. Toward the end of Coeur de Lion, Ariana admits her revenge: “On August 27th I wrote to my / Friend Emma Wolf that I loved / Fucking you and that you might be / A bad writer, which made me / Nervous.” Until now, Ariana has had our sympathies, but this action seems unusually cruel. Reines is careful not to play the martyr: she wants us to know that cruelty is part of her work, as it is of lyric’s.
The identity Jake assigns Ariana, the “pretentious gypsy Jewess goth,” ends up helping Reines—whose book cover , it should be noted, is in a gothic font—to strike back. In Venice, Ariana says Gothic buildings look “like / Geometry and plants fucked each / Other and went insane, a simile that fits Coeur de Lion, too. Reines mates life with form, and their spawn feels alternately heavy and soaring, edgy, and thoroughly alive.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2009 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2009