Chapbook Review: I Am Always Counting Counting

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I was very pleasantly surprised when I finally received “I Am Always Counting Counting” in the mail. It arrived in a handmade envelope, the book itself being envelope sized, and as I unwrapped the package I became more delighted with each layer I peeled back. The first layer was a letter, handwritten on cardboard, wishing me luck in all my future endeavors. The second was a cover-slip encasing the book like a present to be unwrapped, embossed with the phrase “From Rooftops.” And the final layer was the simple, marvelously delicate book itself. As a stared down at each layer I had peeled back I realized that the reason for my delight was that I had not just received a chapbook ordered off of the internet. Instead, I had gotten a personal present that the Canadian Liisa K. Graham, whom I have never met before, delighted as much in sending to me as I had in receiving it.

When I eventually read the book’s content, I was even more impressed. The simple, elegant, hand-sized form of the book supports the short, yet powerful, poems within. Each page contains a block of beautifully letter-pressed poetry in needle-thin typeface surrounded by giant, misshapen rust-orange letters that may be the titles of the poems but function more like art to support the poetry they surround.

When first read, the poems all seem fragmented, like thoughts that don’t blend together, even within themselves. When I gave it a second and third read, however, I realized that it’s no accident that they seem that way. The first few poems express strong internal discord and a desire to discover the new and start over. The narrator is “trying to breaking these habits and letters I write for weeks at a time. This new year I’m hoping is new not because we’re told they tell us.” And then, in a later poem, the reason for the narrator’s discord becomes clear: “Strangers why we do this how silly. I just wanted to know your pleasantness.” Of course, it’s about a break-up, but then again, everything is about a break-up in some sense, and about how everyone has experienced this feeling of self-doubt and desire for change.

When I finally closed the book, I thought about its feel, holding it in my hand it seems like a baby bird, delicate, new, and able to be blown away in a single gust of wind. The book itself is a jumbled, confused thought, a thought we have all had and didn’t want to lose. All the sentences are punctuated accurately, but there isn’t a single sentence that makes grammatical sense. Despite this, anyone who reads this will be able to relate to its meaning. I understand these words and these sentiments no matter what order they appear to me in. This work is a chapbook at its finest; its inside and its outside are in constant dialogue with one another, primed to move from Liisa K. Graham’s world to yours.

 

–Summer Upchurch

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