Hello, (yes, comma included) a poetry chapbook by Annmarie O’Connell, is essentially one poem broken into numbered sections. The book itself is cleverly shaped like a postcard (with the parchment paper cover-over-cover even cleverly including a cut-out stamp outline), and the so the rest of the book after the salutatory title functions as the continuation of a letter. Before anything else, on the first page, there is a bit of a shock with the title “Dying.” Thus, each section is a piece of the speaker’s slow death.
Sections I and II are similarly formatted with caesurae, like distance between two people, a father and daughter, the speaker and Jesus, “you&me” and “a big death roaring,” or like the gulf of the unsaid. This is effective as the poems scatter down the page, fragmented thought, scrambling to come to grips with emotion.
Section III, in contrast, is more composed, introducing two techniques which will feature prominently throughout the rest of the collection—italics and repetition. The italics represent the more private thoughts of the speaker, like an inner voice often urging something, like an id. The repetition is usually of those same self-destructive urges or reductive limiters (“off the cliff,” and “for now,”). Here, too, is the beginning of sexual undertone (“I want to swallow all of you / Come over me”).
Sections IV-XII are all concise, mostly distilled into a single image each, more philosophical in nature, like zen koans (“A man is a larger boat / but you are alone / on the water,” and “I believe in / what I’m filled with // something like the risen sun / searing my brain”).
The final sections, XIII-XV, combine elements of the previous, as if everything has been building poetically and thematically to these last pieces, a sort of climax. The language is more bleak (“diseased / I barely dress myself”), and the return of the caesura suggests a bodily weakness in the speaker, as the italicized thoughts become even more desperate (“cells cells cells,” and “somebody / has to love me”).
The collection ends on an insistent urge to live, despite the exhaustion the speaker and everyone around her experiences through this unnamed illness (“hear my heart / demand a life / tell it / where to go”).
As a bit of an aside, I found the acknowledgements page intriguing: “I am very grateful to Painted Bride Quarterly for publishing, ‘The cracked veins of a green leaf are imperfect,’ 2016.” The poem referenced is not one in this collection, so the only thing I could think of to explain this mention was that perhaps this poem was generative or similar thematically. This is by no means an indictment of the acknowledgements—it is always better for a poet to have a more comprehensive list than less, and no journal will mind being mentioned. All press is, after all, good press!
The speaker shares her innermost thoughts with others around her honestly and unashamedly, in the way only someone coming to terms with one’s own mortality eventually learns to do. Ultimately, Annmarie O’Connell paints a poignant picture of death, but makes it relatable to the reader. She addresses a universally familiar and universally terrifying subject like death in a fresh fashion, shying away from the maudlin, preferring—as I think we all do—saying Hello, to saying goodbye.
You can purchase this chapbook here.
Yellow Flag Press, 2017