Book Review: Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems by John Reed

Collected Lies and Love Poems, selects from a sequence of sonnets written from 2008-2015. Reed, the author of five previous books (three novels and two “stunts”) lends his voice and eclectic abilities to this singular work, which, in addition to being a book of sonnets, is part love letter, part literary ode, and part delusion.

Evolving the classical sonnet, a form which still captures our spirits, Reed summons our contemporary yearning: sugar sweet to splash of acid. “Come to me,” writes Reed in sonnet #6, “like tomorrow to a child.” Sonnet #41, in contrast, offers the lyrical confession, “All I want to do is stab people.” With his plaintive lines, Reed gives expression to the inner ghost of the Twenty-First Century; sonnet #65, a valentine, wonders “Momma, are there other wooden children?”

Free Boat spans 54+ sonnets, and that’s a lot of sonnets, but Reed’s stylistic ease guides his audience through an experience more akin to reading a photo essay. Indeed, of the 23 images in Free Boat, 9 are photographs by the author. Rhapsody, serenade, picaresque, Free Boat would be as comfortably tabled with Nadja by André Breton, as it would be with The Dream Songs by John Berryman, Delta of Venus by Anais Nin, or Under the Net by Iris Murdoch.

This book is wonderful and creative and interesting, but it leaves you without knowing for sure if it had a real purpose other than to be what it was (was it a memoir?). Maybe that was the frustrating point of it. I liked it for it, either way.

I like poetry, but poems by themselves. To dissect them is hard work for me, so a whole book is not necessarily appealing. So, one at a time or, if a bunch of them, I just try to enjoy them for what they are on the surface level–without context (historical, authorial, etc.). I can’t say I’ve actually read a book of poetry before. Unless a textbook counts? This book gives an approachable means to a book of poetry–it is framed by maybe fictional (?) emails to his literary agent ex-girlfriend. I can’t be certain, as this book demands a re-reading that I’m not sure it’s earned. But once is enough. The first read-through is to understand what animal you are dealing with. The second is to actually understand what it’s trying to say–though I’m not certain that is anything. The point is, if you’re going to read poetry, this is an excellent way to do so. I chose to review this book because of the “essay” aspect embedded in the work. It made it less scary, as I do not have the stamina to judge poetry. Even now, you can see in this review, I do not know much about the author or care to learn too  much more to take this work as it is. I am not active in the poetry world, and even the titles mentioned in the various synopses of this book (depending on where you look) don’t give much interpretive insight for me (though one mentions Pale Fire by Nabokov, which did help).

The emails are just as ridiculous as the poetry itself–open to interpretation and maybe not to be confused with the real author(?), but the persona of the author? I’m not sure how literally I’m to take them. The author/author-narrator gives context for his other works throughout the book, which are discoverable/verifiable on Amazon. So there is truth to the narration, making the ‘Death of the Author’ hard to employ in this review. I DO NOT KNOW. I always find poets hard to trust, regardless:

“A book of poems, by me, which I’m fairly sure I’ve written.”

There are photos and references which act as if they are to give context to the poems, but instead give breathing room just as the poems give respite from trying to comprehend the narcissistic nature of the entire work. Read it for the poems only, if that’s your thing. Read it for the statement on literature it’s making. Read it because I’ve never seen anything like it before. I’m sure you’d get something out of it. There’s apparently 54+ sonnets, but I didn’t count them.

“What do you think of 52 sonnets? We could still call the book 47 Sonnets, which rolls off the tongue so beautifully, and so elegantly references the Berryman. I suppose it’s something of a betrayal, to call the book 47 Sonnets, and then include 52 sonnets, but it’s a failing of a failed world. We’ll just drop in a note with the awards submissions. ‘47 Sonnets consists of 52 sonnets.’ Doable, no? And as far as the reading public, they’ll never notice.”

I think I’d rather read his novels.

Read more on Goodreads.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
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