Poetry Review: Boyfriend Mountain

Boyfriend Mountain, Published by Poor Claudia, 2014

With Boyfriend Mountain Tyler Brewington and Kelly Schirmann have made a book of poems that fit together like the teeth of a fine comb. This is the visual they present in the text as well, two sides to a larger whole, taken apart or separate, discrete short poems or melding vision. In fact Brewington’s poems, spacious and wide make way for Schirmann’s density and breathlessness. Both authors’ confessional poems tell us things about our own lives that we didn’t know were true before we read about them in this book.

Each author opens their respective half of the book with list of names, they write “dear” to a number of names and family members and finally “Dear God.” While this may be a simple dedication, it sets the tone for the entire book; it is a gradual build from the very specific pains of love and loss to deeper yearnings for closeness, with other humans but also with spirituality.

Schirmann sets us in time and place quickly, we are in the American of her youth, a time many people no matter their age will recall:


I say in your lap & watched rap videos

from that era in America

we all thought would be endless […]


She goes on to create a world in which the most visceral elements of ourselves are intrinsically linked to the holy. Schirmann’s ability to mix the profane and the romantic carries throughout her poems. There are men with stick n’ poke tattoos along the way and best friends who cannot see the future, they are her guides as much as any deliberate contemplation she may offer. She also uses the word “shitty” in ways that speak to our contemporary language and serve as a reminder that poetry resides in our common speech, still, now, when there are so many forces telling us otherwise.

Brewington creates an immediate atmosphere with his side of the book as well, opening with a poem full of color yet set in the desert:


I was in Nevada


My interior life was full of potential colors


probable colors, hikes at night across wet topaz beds


Brewington travels through both the natural world and on planes in his poems.   When he writes about the crystal he carries to protect the “still-a-baby of me” we see that these poems are a mode of growing up but one that shows that it isn’t a clear trajectory, not for the persona in the poem but not for the reader either and the intimacy this creates is real. Brewington’s language is simple and clear but it stings sometimes, at just the right moments, making the lines resonate and shimmer.

Both authors fill their poems with darkness and sex. Sometimes the darkness is worth the struggle and sometimes the sex is good. Sometimes, in both cases, it is not.

These poems are full of longing, a quest for enlightenment, secular, religious or otherwise that recalls even Dante’s La Vita Nuova. Dante is on a quest for Love (capital ‘L’) and each person he encounters along the way is essential to his getting there. Not all of them are positive, not all of them are very enlightened themselves, but they each make the journey richer. Dante also introduces his dream of the eaten heart in book three of La Vita Nuova; Brewington and Schirmann follow this tradition of devouring all of the earthly elements before reaching for something greater.

This “shit & glitter” aesthetic that is so popular today across many art forms may, in fact, have it’s origins in Dante and in the late middle ages when culture and daily habits were changing rapidly. Life is a mess in Boyfriend Mountain, culture is crumbling, and meaning is ever more subjective and individual, but with these poems Kelly Schirmann and Tyler Brewington continue to make paths to meaning, not just for themselves but for their readers as well.

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