Drew Pisarra takes on the topic of the modern on-again off-again relationship in his raw and clever collection of poems entitled Infinity Standing Up. The work is comprised of 40 Shakespearean sonnets divided into 5 sections. Despite the formal structure inherited from the classic love themed sonnet, the work is very experimental and conversational. I especially enjoyed the thematic rather than sequential numbering of the sonnets. For instance, Sonnet 69, the fourth poem in the collection, depicts the Yin-Yang qualities of a sexual relationship: “a visual symbol for / such sensual play!” Sonnet 32° is about the coldness of an empty relationship. Sonnet 917-589-9XXX is a long run-on sentence text message to an ex, Sonnet Seventeen magazine describes the ex’s maturity, and Sonnet Gazillion is a poem about Cupid’s “countless arrows.”
Each numbered title encapsulates the theme of the individual poem while also bolstering the idea of Infinity Standing Up. Pisarra’s unconventional numbering system evokes the infinite valuations, deviations, and combinations of experiences within different types of love relationships, be it infatuation, breakup, affair, or polyamorous relationship. Pisarra suggests that love, like poetry, cannot be confined by traditional formulas of the past, since the modern digitized world adapts and enumerates the experience of love in new ways. As a result, the collection sheds light on both the nature of modern relationships and the way modern poetry discusses such experiences.
The first section, Act 1, consists of 10 poems detailing the early period of a love affair, the first turmoil between a couple, and finally the sorrow felt from the breakup. These poems are very visceral. The first poem describes the moment of enraptured infatuation as akin to crawling inside a person and living amongst their organs: “I’d like to climb inside your mouth feet first.” It perfectly captures the sense of discovery and intimacy in a relationship while also pointing to the retrospective gross aspects of an overly enthused infatuation. The topics transition from heightened lust in Sonnet 666, to a failure of information in Sonnet 411, and finally to the sorrow of being dumped by a younger person in Sonnet -1: “I’m not wailing, more like sighing. Isn’t / that a softer grief.” The changing tones narrate both the intense moments and the emotional distance that flurry and dissipate until the relationship dissolves.
The next two sections, Act 2 and Act 2A, deal with the post-breakup sorrows and the rekindled sexual affair. Act 2 includes many contemporary themes related to seeking companionship. For instance, Sonnet 1-800 reminiscences about how the 1-800 sex lines has evolved into the hook-up culture of social media:
Yet where are we now? With our lovelorn apps
(Grindr, Tinder, Tingle, Scruff, and Diskreet)
that spell out longing via finger taps,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hey, emoticon heart… r u nearby?”
Act 2A transitions to a new, guilt laden relationship with the ex. Sonnet $18.99 expresses the speaker feeling cheap because he could not purchase dinner for fear of the relationship being taken too seriously: “I wanted to blame you for making me feel cheap / but I knew you weren’t single, so who’s the creep?” The section ends in Sonnet <2 which cleverly hides deep-seated regret and hatred in the sub-text of an inane conversation between the couple while among their friends.
The final section sees the speaker processing his grief and trying to move on. This section plays heavily upon the mathematic themes throughout the collection. The first poem, “Sonnet Infinity,” begins with the speaker seeing the ex’s body parts everywhere: “your lips, your nose, your ears / landed magically on face after face,” Sonnet Pi denies the idea that a polyamorous relationship works because love can be divided infinitely, and “Sonnet Ø” plays off the sign Ø as symbolic of an empty set (along with other meanings): “It will soon be / over. It will be over. It’s over.” Finally, Sonnet # discusses a therapy session that ends abruptly, indicating that the speaker’s feelings are still present and have not yet been fully worked through.
Pisarra’s combination of traditional and experimental writing offers readers a fresh look into the everchanging topic of finding love. The poems give deep insight into raw emotions, contemporary references, and visceral elations that will appeal to many readers. Balancing this lyricism, brutally distasteful imagery likewise underlines the nauseating aspects of modern relationships. The title, Infinity Standing Up, seems to highlight the embodied abstraction of what it means to write a love poem. I recommend Pisarra’s book as a conscious exploration of the hope and despair of pursuing and failing to find love today.
Infinity Standing Up
By Drew Pisarra
Capturing Fire Press, 2019
Paperback, 68 pp. $10
Michael Sutherlin is a PhD student in English at the University of Tennessee Knoxville where he specializes in Modernism and Literary Theory. His current focus of study is the relationship between religion and secularity as it plays out in twentieth century debates about didacticism.