BY KAILEY TEDESCO
The World is My Rival contains the kind of poetry that has the ability to transport anyone to a specific place, time, and emotion. I lost myself, sifting through these poems of jilted love, ache, and the speaker’s outcry to be everywhere at once in order to avoid the pangs of envy that come with the relatable realization that there are so many others our lover’s could prefer. Seley handles the concept of jealousy with unflinching panache, withholding no emotion. In the poem “The Unarmed War” the speaker imagines interrogating the “other person,” craving that voyeuristic glimpse into what love looks like after it’s no longer yours:
Is your hair blown?
Does it dam up the drain in the tub? Does he
gingerly pluck it out and stick it to the tile?
Does this aggravate you? Do you know the way
it irritates me? Are you pretty? I mean,
does he call you pretty?
These poems also manage to be both youthful and timeless all at once. Seley grounds them in a geography that is familiar to many and known to all through popular culture. New Jersey shore towns, and boardwalks, and grocery stores, and casinos fill the pages of this collection in a way that harkens back to the love ballads of Springsteen, Joel, Karen O, The Bouncing Souls, and so many more. There seems to be an unspoken tradition of musicians waxing poetic about these everyday East Coast locations, and Seley takes that tradition and makes it her own. In “I Was Born a Shrieking Slot Machine” the speaker reflects:
Summers let me do whatever: loose bikini tops and salt water
taffy, kissing under the boardwalk and my pickup line, every time
“The only real thing is how fake this all is”
On a surface level, this can read as angst. So many of us, at some point, equate ourselves with our hometowns, projecting disgust onto what’s around us in order to avoid directing that disgust at ourselves. And yet, this angst becomes something far more profound in these poems. Instead of condemning being a part of this town/s, Seley condemns the fact that the speaker cannot fully be absorbed into the the Earth as a whole, and more specifically, its water. In “My Body is What Ails Me” the speaker laments “I want to be an ocean but inevitably / I’m more mosquito. Blood corpulent.”
To become the ocean would mean never fearing love’s loss, because the speaker would then be everywhere at once. And yet, in these heartbreaking lines we see that she, like all of us, is bound by blood, able to be near enough to water to feel the tragedy of her limitations. In “Spoiled in Six Ways,” Seley writes:
you still smile at me
when I wear shorts still smoke pot and speak
French like you were born in Lyon vacationing there
touching the unshaven hairs on slender legs
and never learning names but love the sounds
of Nathalie, Héléne, Élise
There is an ache for a worldliness here that feels unattainable, and with that worldliness comes a connectedness, and in this case that connectedness leads the speaker to envision hypothetical women across the sea.
Seley’s extremely stylistic lyricism and command of language will make readers feel as though they are in the hands of someone with immense wisdom. The poems are transparent in their confessions of loss and envy, but they are also spoken in a voice that knows these emotions are not felt alone. It is ironic then that the speaker’s insistence that she is pitted against the world is also the very thing that will connect the world to these poems. We’ve all felt trapped by our feelings of fear and inadequacy, and it is in the knowledge of this entrapment that Seley seems to assert that we can free ourselves. In “World-Sized Hole” the world is not a rival, but a companion in the speaker’s feelings:
The sky folds into itself like a clasped hand —
I look up thinking Does the earth even feel
comfortable in its own skin?
Unlike the love ballads of yore, the imperative of envy is not to hate the self or the other, but to understand that the self is the other and the other is the self all long. For this realization alone, Charlotte Seley’s beautifully wise debut collection is a must-read. You can purchase it here.
Kailey Tedesco's books She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications) and These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) are both forthcoming. She is the editor-in-chief of a Rag Queen Periodical and a performing member of the NYC Poetry Brothel. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her poetry featured or forthcoming in Prelude, Prick of the Spindle, Bellevue Literary Review, Vanilla Sex Magazine, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.