By Cecilia Polkinhorn
Although I had never read any of Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work before, I was not surprised by how instantly I fell in love with her latest collection of poems, The Year of No Mistakes. The book was released this past October, and, having already been a fan of a few poets that Write Bloody Publishing represents, I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed.
Of course, with a book of poetry, a natural inclination is to first leaf through the pages to see what words, titles, forms and formats catch your attention. You might stop at a poem or two (or ten, in my case), read them, digest them, and regard them however you may as stand-alone pieces.
“Manhattan” for example, reflects on the attractive edge, the thorny rosebush that is both the boroughs and whole of New York City having “so many lovers,/ but she marries no one. She strings us along/ and my God, do we love her for it.” (17)
Many of Aptowicz’s lines vibrate with the thematic tension between romance and life’s harsh and often laughable realities. Still, she maintains hope.
The poem “My Tiny God” speaks to the lovers of simple pleasures and those who understand when things go wrong, recognizing the challenges we often have to face ourselves (although she speaks in the first person) and forgiving the Tiny God for intermittently going on leave. In the end,
“…My Tiny God clocks in every morning. Coffee,
our favorite miracle. Work, our favorite song. Faith, our lucky
number. He pours sunlight on me like syrup, fluffs every cloud,
smacks the birds from the trees just so I can watch them scatter.” (33)
“Op-Ed For The Sad Sack Review…” solicits a sad chuckle with the pathetic picture Aptowicz paints of gloom and failure, having once failed to spell the word failure. Even in the dreary subjects of depression and heartbreak, she weaves lighthearted wit and humor for the sake of retaining hope, rousing the optimism in the community of broken hearts:
“Let’s write terrible poetry, dress like late-era Rothkos,
wear out the relentless hate machines of our brains,
but let’s never break. Let’s just keep living. We can
do this. Trust me. Yours Sincerely, Me, A Poet Who
Doesn’t Even Know How to Spell the Word Failure.” (68)
After skimming through enough poems out of order, I proceeded to read the book all the way through. Doing so sucked me into a different kind of vortex that allowed me more fully experience damn near every struggle she went through in the year she writes about.
Being a poetry aficionado is not a prerequisite to loving The Year of No Mistakes. Aptowicz makes it easy to relate with her while still challenging readers to marinate on the images and ideas she presents. Throughout the whole of the book, she keenly describes the warm nostalgias for the beginnings of her long-standing relationship and the stages of grief after having lost it, as well as the vividness of her time in New York City and the woes of unemployment. No doubt this book will aid and lift broken, struggling hearts everywhere.
Aptowicz reminds us that indeed, life can be rough. But even through such obstacles and painful losses, we can laugh and carry on.
Details aren’t important, no matter
who asks. What, or how, or why.
It’s whether we stick the landing.
To me, the ending is all that matters.
And old love, we made it. We are
on the other side. We are okay.
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz currently lives in Austin, Texas, and has five books of poetry published. She has one book of nonfiction entitled Words in Your Face: Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam which Poet Laureate Billy Collins has noted “…leaves no doubt that the slam poetry scene has achieved legitimacy and taken its rightful place on the map of contemporary literature.”