The intimacy of Hennessy's Love-In-Idleness

Karen Biscopink

With such delight I have read, and re-read, Christopher Hennessy’s first collection of poetry, Love-In-Idleness.  The intimacy Hennessy calls upon, as he invites us to witness his intricate evolution, is generous and unflagging.  The book opens with a solitary poem, “Christopher Looks,” that defines and redefines Christopher (author, son, lover, concept) via a collage of Google search results.  Brutally honest and frequently grotesque, this piece sets in motion a book that reads like a revolving theatrical set.  With each turn, the reader encounters the poet through a new lens; the disjunction between standpoints is frequently vast and surprising. 

 

Some days Christopher looks like an ordinary young man;

others, like a man dying to get out alive, gone

into his dead man’s suit at the first sight of blood. 

(pg. 9)

 

I read Love-In-Idleness with a keen awareness of mythology, or the ways in which one comes to understand both past and trajectory. Hennessy utilizes a surprising variety of formal constructions, each functioning with the poems’ content to create a multidimensionality that is both true to reality, and somehow larger than life.   He moves deftly between short lyric, academic prose, and decorous aubade. Where one poem cites Toto’s “Rosanna,” another recalls the words of Elizabeth Bishop.  While one hand conducts a quiet orchestration of troubled Midwestern families, the other paints a “Still Life with Jars.”  In “Nocturne,” Hennessy writes,

 

But I was cataloguing another life: alien

beings, superheroes, secret agents,

the boys in school I wanted

to be but couldn’t even talk to.

(pg. 18)

 

So, too, is Love-In-Idleness an attempt to catalogue many men: the multiplicity of selves contained within a singular poet.  Taking on the persona of Jacob (as he wrestles with the angel,) or a compatriot of Neitzche and Pasolini, or Christ, Hennessy builds a complex comprehension of time that brings his story into relief.  An ever-present eroticism gains volume as we are rocketed from one mythic scenario to the next, lending the book a momentum that I find electric.

 

It’s all too much

for Nietzche and I.

We embrace in a long kiss

that seems to answer

every question we’ve ever had.

 

Pasolini applauds.

(pg 60)

 

Having dog-eared and underlined this beautiful book, having carried it with me for two weeks, I have developed quite an affinity for Hennessy’s work.  Perhaps, too, I should mention that Love-In-Idleness got me writing again.  The six weeks that followed the completion of my thesis were a terrifying poetic dry spell, whose end was well-hidden.  An hour in Hennessy’s imagistic garden, however, incited the linguistic tingle in my fingers that I had so missed.   And so, I offer to the poet both hearty congratulations and  sincere gratitude. 

 

The cicada sleeps

underground for 17 years

to avoid the mantis and wasp.

But when it emerges, it sings.

 

There is no shame in that life.

                                                (pg. 35) 


Love-In-Idleness
By Christopher Hennessy
Brooklyn Arts Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1936767021



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