December 2013

Rebecca Silber


The Year of No Mistakes by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

In The Year of No Mistakes, Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz writes poetry with a stark honesty that comes along with having to rebuild a life. She wrote this collection after shedding boyfriend, city, and any notion of future security that she may have grown accustomed to. However, you will not be required to read this curled up in your bed with a box of Kleenex -- this is not a high school breakup sad, sulky book of poems. The Year of No Mistakes is Aptowicz's sixth book of poetry and she brings a knowing maturity to her writing.

Aptowicz wrote The Year of No Mistakes after she left New York City, where she had lived for fourteen years. Along with this readjustment, these poems chronicle the slow end of a ten-year romantic relationship. Aptowicz poignantly takes her sadness and makes it universal. Her personal heartbreak lumbers off the pages and acquaints itself with the reader. But Aptowicz also touchingly adds humor and grace to what can be a horrible tangle of a time for anyone going through such an uprooting. The Year of No Mistakes is divided into seven sections. The poems are short, some are extremely short, and they are so relatable and entertaining, that it's difficult to put a bookmark in and move on to something else.

I do not want to get too far into discussing the actual verse until I discuss Aptowicz's amazing titles. Many of them are just as, if not more, poetic than the poetry. My favorite of Aptowicz's titles (and perhaps my favorite title ever) is "After the Break-Up, a Married Friend Tells Me She's Jealous Because of How Boring Her Marriage Can Be." At some point all married people have this thought as they hear about their single friends' always evolving love lives. In a twist of heart-panging irony, the poem is filled with longing -- longing for everything that the married couple has and probably considers boring.

How you knew how to hold me when we slept, arms looped
around my shoulders, one leg draped over my hip. How I'd
roll into you in the night and you'd turn to hold me, instinct,
as if you were made to do it. The happy groan we'd share.

It's a grass is always greener poem, but very creatively written. The way the title and the actual poem almost mock each other in the same way that the married friend unknowingly mocks the post break-up friend is anything but cliché. Aptowicz's poems, whether heavy or light, all exude wit. In a breezier long-titled poem entitled "Said the Fly Killing Itself Trying to Escape Through a Closed Window, Completely Ignoring the Open Door," she also manipulates the traditional title and poem relationship. The poem simply reads, "Don't worry, / I'm not a metaphor."

There is a series of month poems, not chronological, and not every month is included, but several are. These poems are snapshots of memories from a specific period of time -- they are visual cues back to a fleeting moment -- former moments of happiness that are no longer present. One of these poems is "July." It ends,

The green herbs
with goat cheese, the aged brie paired
with a small pot of strawberry jam,
the final sour cherry we kept politely
pushing onto each other's plates, saying,
No, you. But it's so good. No, it's yours.
How I finally put an end to it, plucked it
from the plate, and stuck it in my mouth.
How good it tasted: so sweet and so tart.
How good it felt: to want something and
pretend you don't, and to get it anyway.

I am in love with those last two lines and how well Aptowicz put into words this universally understood smug, selfish, satisfaction that has absolutely nothing to do with an argued over sour cherry. Another poem, "What I Meant When I Said Failure," will resonate with anybody who uses social media. It begins,

Friend sells two hundred dollars worth of chapbooks in 24 hours.
Friend fills entire performance hall for his book release.
Friend gets his residency paid for by online fundraiser.
Friend gets into every MFA program she applied to.

In the Facebook-Twitterverse that we reside in, it does seem like friends are constantly enjoying success. In status updates, it seems that nobody is ever feeling lonely, rejected, or any of the emotions that a "failure" would feel.

The poems in The Year of No Mistakes are almost written as narrative and effortlessly tell Aptowicz's story, really not hiding behind many complicated literary devices, or much of anything. Through vulnerability and transparency, the reader becomes intimately acquainted with Aptowicz's most private feelings. You will laugh, you will cry, you will smile knowingly. Even if you don't regularly read poetry, Aptowicz's writing style is so approachable, her topics so familiar, that by the end of The Year of No Mistakes you will feel like she is your roommate, or at the very least, one of your favorite Facebook friends.

The Year of No Mistakes by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
Write Bloody Publishing
ISBN: 978-1938912344
100 pages