Juliette and the Boys by Sueyuen Juliette Lee

chapletsWrapped in its iridescent pale blue cover, Lee’s Belladonna chapbook (2014) offers an intriguing collection of messages from “the boys,” whose character, age, even gender floats unstably across the fluxes of the poems. Casting the speaker of the poems, the eponymous Juliette, into the role of recipient—is she friend, lover, teacher?—the messages come from near and far. Texts, calls, questions, and letters are funneled through the point of view of Juliette, these “boys” seeking or offering news, contact, comfort, and affection.

Sometimes oblique, in vain, or attenuated, the messages signal a desire for contact as much as its reality: “P texts / writes / calls / calls again / apologizes / quits” (6). Sueyuen Juliette Lee slices these poems into short lines, often no more than one, two or three words in length, heightening their urgency. Almost utterly absent of punctuation and interleaved with Juliette’s responses, the lines are brief, elliptical, partial, offering the reader an awareness of the dynamic between senders and recipient via indirection. Lee invites me into Juliette’s experience, the “chatter” of these “boys” and her juggling of the vertiginous energy channeled at her.

what isn’t happening
between us anymore
terrains can tell
the future, too
like oxygen it’s
there all the time
doesn’t matter
so cry and let him
cuddle me
for class, Juliette
and the boys (13)

Eighteen “boys,” each identified only by a unique initial, and eighteen poems, these former lovers, friends, students, and would-be lovers are kept at a distinct distance by their designation as boys. Lee’s characters form a belt of comets or asteroids, shooting through the orbit of Juliette, each appearing but single time. Diminutive and energetic, they home-in on Juliette, “that strange gold dark / goodness you / already knew” (17), seeking comfort: “I look like / just like / his mother” (12, “R”); “he’s been / watching those videos / am I around in October / covered in honey” (3, “C”); “crossing / no bridges / just suffering re-theorized” (10, “X”). Only once is the “boy” is literally a child, “H”. Only in the final poem does the sender offer Juliette comfort: “T says,”

it’s too late where I am
he’s going to think of me
for the next hour
all night so sleep
in his thoughts
and just stop it
close my eyes and (20)

It is on that trailing note, Juliette gone to sleep, perhaps, as the flight of comets closes, the messages stop, the chaplet ends. Who gets to say, Lee asks, “Juliette”, “the boys”, Lee?

It is in Lee’s syntactical ruptures, or perhaps, collisions, that her lines obtain their potency, the strange attractors of juxtaposition:

K messages
there’s Japan
and a steel bike or
a bible somewhere
near the panhandle
in a stab and run
was it okay
am I (6)

Confounded and delighted by a sense that unmoors itself from ordinary syntax, I enter the play of language, the quite literal gaps of communication, itself always partial, always moving, like “the boys,” shooting through the atmospheres of these poems and Juliette’s life.

The potent, readerly pleasure of these poems lies in the geometry they make, the arcing vectors of conversations that reach, or fail to reach, Juliette, her gravity holding them in orbit, however briefly. Like “H” and “X” and all the others, I am drawn to this Juliette who speaks yet reveals almost nothing of herself.

Juliette and the Boys is available from Belladonna*

Marthe Reed is the author of four books of poetry: Pleth, a collaboration with j hastain (Unlikely Books 2013), (em)bodied bliss (Moria Books 2013), Gaze (Black Radish Books 2010) and Tender Box, A Wunderkammer (Lavender Ink 2007). A fifth book of poems will be published by Lavender Ink in Fall 2014. She has also published chapbooks as part of the Dusie Kollektiv, as well as with above / ground press and Shirt Pocket Press. Her collaborative chapbook thrown, text by j hastain with Reed’s collages, won the 2013 Smoking Glue Gun contest and will appear in 2014. She is Co-Publisher of Black Radish and the Editor/Publisher of Nous-zot Press chapbooks. Her reviews have appeared or are forthcoming at Rain Taxi, Jacket2, Galatea Ressurrects, Openned, Cut Bank, New Pages, and The Rumpus among others.

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