Let’s All Die Happy by Erin Adair-Hodges

lets all

By Lynette G. Esposito

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Let’s All Die Happy by Erin Adair-Hodges is the winner of the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and well deserved.  The 95-page poetry volume published by University of Pittsburg Press delivers a poetic experience that not only engages the reader as an observer but also involves the reader in the images, in the action and in the message.
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For example, on page seven, Adair-Hodges uses images to set the tone in the thirty-three-line poem In the Black Forest.
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                                 Even the birds, stained black by the thumb
                                 of morning.  If not love, then at least a thing
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                                that is not love’s undoing, that is not
                                a lung with nothing to do.  When I dream
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                                of loving another man it is only
                                a muscle remembering the joy.
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So much is presented in the couplets opening this poem.  Tone is both dark and light, musical and clash, lost and found as one discovers love and its profound effect.  The mixed metaphors twist the black forest with controlling punctuation, with spindles and bobbins and two jobs for one action.  The last words are both mournful and hopeful
: … I changed the locks because I thought there were more keys to come.
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On page thirty-five, the one-stanza poem, The Trap, opens with There is no greater tragedy than to be young.  Action is suggested through universal but unique images such as:  linoleum of heartbreak, corn dog stands, letters hinged by blades, and lightening bolts angry and bored.  Imagine yourself in high school; your first time having sex, and these images ignite.
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Each poem suggests cause and effect messages.  In Seeing Ex-Boyfriends on page 88, aging is presented in seeing the past in the present and nostalgia for what was.
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                                   Sometimes you see the young man you knew
                                   inside the skin of this deflated one.
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Adair-Hodges again uses couplets without end rhyme to keep the pace of the poem quick.
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                                    Sometimes, you look good, never better.
                                   Mostly you do not.
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The language of aging is no longer how great you look but how you look good—a linguistic dodge around the implications that beauty is not for the old.  The poem is not just about what is but the perception of beauty and also about how beauty is defined when one is young– which is both realistic and forgiving.  The images Adair-Hodges uses visualize clearly the situation both then and now.
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                                   …Sometimes
                                    it is at a  party you did not want to go to,
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                                   hair unwashed, skirt unpressed, crust of spit-up on your neck.
                                   so that when you see him, though he is fatter and fading,
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                                  you think of why you stayed those extra months,
                                 the gentleness with which he parted you,
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The poem is meaningful and astute in its presentation of how people change and stay the same.
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The poems in Let’s All Die Happy use common language and both traditional and untraditional poetic form successfully.  It is a good read for poetry lovers who like complex thought.
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Let’s All Die Happy is available at http://wwwupress.pitt.edu/
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.
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