Poetry might be the wildest retro-thing going in the literary world, especially when it appears in print inside an artful hardcover that can be carried anywhere and accessed forever off the grid, especially when it appears to be “powerful emotion recollected in tranquility”–without being too tidied up, or too spontaneous. Rebecca Lindenberg’s Love, An Index (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2012) is such a book. I’ve been reading it for months, as I often do with books of poems, and I’m still encountering new resonances.

Lindenberg’s beloved life partner of seven years, the poet Craig Arnold, disappeared in 2009 while hiking in Japan. Love, An Index shares Lindenberg’s howl of grief and longing with anyone willing to do the good work of reading poems that do not always give up their meaning easily (and sometimes do). Just how clear are grief or longing, ever, really? The poems allow Lindenberg to lasso the emotions without taming them.

The heart of the book is the longish title poem, a mini-dictionary which supplies connotations for a host of words that tragedy has transformed. Other poems explore Lindenberg’s emphasis on the fact that language is as dynamic as life, including, “Losing  a Language: a Phrasebook” and “Love, N1,” a five-page long reimagining of the word’s meaning.

The book closes with six pages of notes—mostly authors and titles–and two of thanks, leaving the impression  Lindenberg has survived the tragedy as much by reading and friendship as by writing. I’m especially interested in the notes because the best poems are grown in the fertile humus of many-words-that-came-before, a sort of language ecosystem. Love, An Index includes a map of the place it was born.

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