Book Review

POETRY MONTH: Lyme by Jared A. Carnie

some great love poetry surrounded by trepidatious discussion of someone else's illness

cw: chronic illness

When I started reading Jared A. Carnie’s Lyme, I thought Lyme disease was basically some kind of really bad IBS. I don’t know where I got that idea from, because this chapbook about being the primary carer of someone suffering from serious Lyme disease makes absolutely no mention of intestinal issues or rigidly imposed dietary changes. (I’ve just realised I was thinking of Crohn’s Disease, which is completely different.)

This 2020 publication from Paper Swans Press is a pamphlet that feels a bit anachronistic, being as it is a description of the secondary (secondhand?) experience of physical trauma and ill-health.

Carnie is not the person suffering from Lyme disease, and to what level his own life is centred on the other person’s illness is kept vague, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the tone taken here. Mostly the poems here have a powerful directness to them, in terms of the poetic voice’s, thoughts and feelings in response to the other person’s ill health, yet I felt there was a significant absence of any real detail of symptoms and/or effects on the day-to-day life of the person with Lyme disease (by which I mean the way in which their life is different to their life before). The person described is only there as “patient”, rather than as “person”.

This leaves – for me – the collection falling somewhere in an uncanny valley between a type of writing of the past and a type of writing of the present: by pulling the punches of the illness sufferer’s illness (i.e. no specific detail around symptoms etc) AND by not emphasising the poetic voice’s distanced experience from a second-hand perspective (i.e. “how do *I* feel about this”), the piece as a whole lacked – for me – an emotional entry point. Lyme is – again, for me (bear in mind I am an unsubtle person) – both too sensitive and too unselfish, e.g. “when someone asks / how we are doing / I tell them we are doing ok / because I don’t want that / to not be the truth” (from ‘Fair’). The voice and the relationship the voice is in are not doing ok – or are they? If this can’t be expressed with ragged emotionality in a poem, where can it be expressed?

There are some beautiful love poems here, though, and – in fact – all of the poems that don’t discuss chronic illness have much more power, because there isn’t (again, to me) a sense of trepidation on the page; there doesn’t seem to be an attempt to not say rather than to say. Love poems titled ‘Enough’, ‘No Need For Invention’ and ‘Last’ are truly fucking gorgeous and Carnie’s poetic skills really shine in the arena of love .

It is the presence of “tact”, I think, that I didn’t enjoy in the writing about illness.

By attempting to not exploit the suffering of another person, that secondary individual and their body end up becoming less than human – a problem, rather than an individual.

An individual poem (in a magazine or something) exploring these feelings, I think, would be very powerful and very effective, but an entire pamphlet’s worth of them feels – again, to me – less so. Maybe inside a larger collection, where these poems would be buffered by expressions of other ideas (and more of the cracking romance writing), then this discomfort that I feel as a contemporary reader would be lessened.

Then again, I don’t ever really tend to love poetry written by white men. So, maybe it’s just not for me?

I think the way most poems work on their own are solid, but as a whole, Lyme and I just didn’t connect.

Again, these are just opinions, not objective facts, so apologies for any offence caused by my lack of enthusiasm.

Order Lyme direct from the publisher via this link

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