It’s been a while since I read poetry that moved me as much as did The Next Loves by Stéphane Bouquet (translated by Lindsay Turner). I find almost all poetry moving, but the raw ache I felt when reading some of the verse within this text was such that I found my eyes scanning and rescanning the page, reading the words aloud to myself and tasting the way they sounded in my mouth, almost as if they were hungry. That’s the word I would use to describe these poems; they left me feeling hungry for more, and yet at the same time there was a completeness to them once consumed as a Gestalt that left me satiated in a satisfactory way.
The book is composed of ten long poetic works that are each split up into different sections according to their own internal style. Each poem is unique, and explores a different facet of human interactions in a diverse and intriguing way. Throughout the text are very strong intersectional themes, particularly with regard to multicultural, urban, and queer identity in youth, which are subjects that I have a strong interest in, so this book is exactly up my alley.
The poems within The Next Loves are incredibly sensual, not only in the sense that many of them contextualize and elaborate upon relationships of a sexual nature, but also in that they draw upon the senses of the reader/listener to create a strong sensory experience within the mind when consuming the poetry. While engaging with these poems I felt that I was in many ways becoming one with the speakers and their subjects, and found myself situated within their world.
And yet these poems are more than just stories about individuals and individual experiences. East Side Story tells of a whirlwind weeklong love affair — in reverse order — and digs deep into the heart of what was a meaningful, if not lasting, relationship. It encapsulates the rush and fervour of a short romance, the heightened stakes of queer relationships, the difficulties and potential strengths of cultural barriers in a relationship, and as a poetic form creates turbulence and anxiety in the best way as it utilizes one of my favorite mechanisms by beginning at the end. Even as these people and their relationship are explored with dexterity and nuance, they are never named. As a point in fact, rarely are the people in these poems ever named, which is part of the beauty of this work — these could be nearly anyone’s stories. (With the exception of the amazing Light of the Fig, which I’ll get to in a bit.)
That is not to say that there is no diversity in the stories told. The persons represented within these poems come from a vast array of backgrounds and contexts, and that diversity and complexity is a real strength. The representation of queer folk and people of color, and people from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds much appreciated. The artistry that Bouquet and Turner used to craft these poems, each of them rich in detail and refinement, is amazing.
For I would be remiss to not acknowledge that while the quality of the original content and the nuance of the speakers and their stories must have come from Bouquet’s original French compositions, Turner undoubtedly had a role in their detailed refinement and transition when she translated them into the English language. There is no doubt in my mind that some things might have been lost in the translation, but my impression of these poems in English is of a balanced and harmonic design. If I hadn’t known that this was a book in translation I scarcely would have realized that these poems were not original English works. (I should note that there are points where non-English words appear in the text, but they are italicized and stylized such their appearance makes sense, and since I am used to finding that in texts I read it doesn’t tend to faze me.)
Now, I did promise to talk about the poem Light of the Fig and I have to say that any review of this book would be inattentive not to mention it because this section of the book is a masterpiece. The speaker takes the listener on a journey by addressing them directly — this is a poem read in the second person, and we as readers are forcibly pulled into a heated summer, compelled to grapple with the names and ages of the dead, and placed into an uncertain and frantic world. Wrapped up in this poem are the themes of desperation and anguish, and the ways in which they interact with sex and youth. An almost haunting refrain throughout the verse is that the speaker intermittently states the date, in addition to the intermittent statements about the ages of the dead, which range from 13 to 23. This poem really did give me goosebumps, but nevertheless it is one of my favorites.
All in all, I highly recommend The Next Loves, and I know that I will soon be getting myself a proper physical copy once it hits bookshelves on September 24th!
Note: As a general disclaimer I should note that I was asked to write this review and sent a free digital advanced reader copy to read in order to do so, though I did not otherwise receive any kind of compensation. All the enthusiasm is 100% me, folks! Many thanks to Nightboat Books for sending 😊