May 2005

Gena Anderson


Crush by Richard Siken

Crush is Richard Siken’s winning entry in the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, the longest-running poetry competition in the United States. In her forward for the book, Louise Glück, U.S. Poet Laureate and judge of this year’s entries, writes “This is a book about panic. The word is never mentioned. Nor is the condition analyzed or described -- the speaker is never outside it long enough to differentiate panic from other states.”

Gluck’s description is extremely apt. Crush starts out with the poem "Scheherazade," and the first line douses the reader in icy water: “Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake/ and dress them in warm clothes again.” From there, the intensity of emotions in the book never let up, and the reader finds that Crush is tellingly named.

Every poem builds the feeling of uncertainty, the assertion that something horrible is about to happen, or is happening and you are helpless to stop it: “It starts with bloodshed, always bloodshed, always the same/running from something larger than yourself.” There is a dreamlike quality to most of the poems, and many even state outright that the actions described are taking place in a dream. This adds to the feeling of uncertainty, because of course one is often hopeless to stop or control what happens in their dreams.

In a way, the poems are obsessed with feeling, with the alchemy of adrenaline that comes when obsession with emotion crosses the line into violence: “The radio aches a little tune that tells the story of what the night/ is thinking. It’s thinking of love./ It’s thinking of stabbing us to death/ and leaving our bodies in a dumpster.” Violence is a theme throughout, usually described in a detailed and surprisingly loving way: “Like sandpaper, the light, or a blessing, or a bruise. Blood everywhere, he said, the red light hemorrhaging from everywhere at once. The train station blue, your lips blue, hands cold and the blue wind.”

The poems draw the obvious, visceral correlation between love and obsession, taking the confusion of identity and abruptly putting it in the arena of violent reality. Being in love, or lust, is like being shot, or hit by a car, a dread in the pit of your stomach. In Crush, it seems that it is not enough to be loved -- you also have to feel every minute of panic and drama that goes with it, feelings both emotional and physical.

Crush by Richard Siken
Yale University Press
ISBN: 0300107218
62 pages