By Liz Worth
I don’t know why I feel compelled to look for a narrative in Amphetamine Heart. That isn’t ordinarily my first instinct when I pick a poetry collection. Parhaps because this latest book has so much in common with another book of Worth’s, which I reviewed here, that did have a strong narrative current. Perhaps because the tone of the writing is so uniformly cold, wet and uncomfortable. It seems to have a consistency which begs me to derive a narrative from it. Whatever the reason, I’ve been through this book a half dozen times looking for a single, clear, unified story line. I can’t find it, but I keep looking.
In a way it’s distracting. I can’t approach the poems individually without feeling that I’m missing some critical element of context. But I also can’t approach the work as a whole, because I don’t know whether there is truly a wholeness to approach. The positive thing about this mystery, though, is that it gives Amphetamine Heart a sense of mystery. My interactions with it are active, investigatory, and dynamic. Any good poem will offer a little something extra to the serious and careful reader. Worth, though, seems to be the rare poet who can actually extort, from the casual reader, a little bit of extra:
Attention to Detail
It was the night you said that there’s no such thing
as an accidental overdose.
I was convulsing with downtown sickness,
slavering over your triple lunacy.
The erratic timing of my disoriented middle ear
became audible with the calluses of your hand
Six poems in, nearing the end of the first cycle, and the subject matter is relatable, literal, and dramatic. The “I” suffers a drug overdose. Certainly something one could imagine the “I” of all of these poems experiencing. The next piece should be about a hospital room, or death, or recovery, but instead:
The demolition of her atonement
has you salivating;
it could be a viral reaction, or your glands
flexing practiced analysis.
. . .
A bead of salt slides down your sternum,
reaches her chin.
Her lips bend to accommodate the moisture,
bend away from resistance.
Beneath you, she divides in two, opens wide.
Similar tone, language, and detached perspective. It definitely could be part of the same story. But is the “you,” of this poem the same person as the “you” of the previous? And who is “she?” Is she a new character, or simply the “I” re-branded?
“Beginner’s Guide,” like much of this collection, is erotic, vivid and amusing, if not all together pleasant. Throughout Amphetamine Heart, lurid and arousing nouns like “moisture,” and “breath,” are paired with the troublesome adjectives like ”hoarse,” and “viral.” It’s a simple technique, but it’s contextually appropriate and carefully applied. The effect is visceral and unsettling. It adds a guttural sensation, which makes the experience feel very complete. Amphetamine Heart engages the reader physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Frankly, I always feel a little bit sick when I read Worth’s poetry. Given that her bio proclaims, the “poems are linked by discomfort and decay. . . urgency and self harm,” I hope she will take this as a compliment.
by Michael Scott
* all quotations from Amphetamine Heart by Liz Worth.