The Sensuous Unknown:
Jay Deshpande's Love the Stranger | Dorothy Chan
YesYes Books, 2015 (101 pages)
In Love the Stranger, Jay Deshpande combines the allure of abstraction with animal instinct. Deshpande's collection is sensuous because of this unknown—strangers are mysterious, and this mystery is exactly what makes them sexy. This sexiness due to mystery is well-exhibited in the opening poem, "Apologia Pro Vita Sua": I remember a time/with a woman I knew only as the sound of her hair./After we had both come and spent ourselves/on the smells of each other, we went up on the roof/and lay down on my coat, wishing/that people could see the stars in the city." The speaker creates a beautiful synesthesia with "sound of her
This theme of finding the romantic in the abstract continues through the rest of Deshpande collection. "The Lovers" is another standout poem: "I live quietly now,/by myself, mildly hallucinating./In Magritte's The Lovers, it's a dream/seduction: figures locked in profile/in a kiss you cannot see." Deshpande's craft is on point. His line breaks are seductive, and his surreal imagery points toward universality—we may be unable to see the kiss in The Lovers, but deep down, we can feel it. More importantly, we've all experienced how this feels. Contrastingly, Deshpande also builds up the seduction through directness: "Bare legs and skirt/pressed up against the side of the car,/at the side of the street, familiar story." Deshpande brings this all together as a "familiar story." It is a sexy image we all know and can picture—this image inspires the animalistic in us all. Contrasting with this animalistic instinct is loneliness. We are as quick to feel passion as we are to feel loneliness. The speaker ends "The Lovers" with "Behind those painted figures/a storm, without center, rising./How they ever found their way to each other." What more could the reader want than the passion of two lovers finding each other?
Above all, Deshpande speaks truth. For instance, in "Strength," the speaker states, "There is nothing quite so alien as being/correct." This type of statement is a gift because it greatly speaks to the human experience. Another example is in "Dramatis Personae or In This House A Single Thread," where the speaker speaks the truth of the writer: "The Moon when not." Writers and romantics are known to be obsessed with the moon, and this statement summarizes our reliance on the moon for inspiration.
Part of the truth Deshpande speaks branches off into a popular culture direction, combined with the surrealism that we experienced earlier. "Porn" reads, "On the screen are a man and a woman. They are watching tv,/a program about the 1965 World's Fair and the animatronic/president at the Illinois pavilion. They become distracted/by bodies: having them, and each other." Deshpande presents another wonderful juxtaposition: the robotic body of Lincoln at the World's Fair contrasted with the real flesh and ripe bodies of the man and woman. Then, we go back to the Magritte surrealism, as evidenced by, "One face/is on the other's face, then it is somewhere else." This is a beautiful movement that Deshpande seamlessly presents.
Moving forward in this popular culture direction is Deshpande's culminating Chet Baker poems. These twelve poems aren't quite sonnets, in that they range from eight to twelve lines. In this way, they're delicate and are "boxed up" poems that continue on with Deshpande's absurdities and universality. The eighth "Chet Baker" in the sequence takes on the ongoing idea of yearning through loneliness: "The subway brings you to a room/where you are alone with the woman you used to love./As you sit there unable to speak/she takes you in her arms/and softly lists all the things that have hurt you/in the last three years." This "used to love" idea in another human being one used to have a connection with is so powerful and relatable. It relates to us seeking solace in those we used to rely on, hoping once again, that we miraculously could rely on them. We want that old love that we used to experience.
Deshpande ends his collection with "Brightly." In this poem, the speaker poses the following rhetorical question: "how long could I love/on just water/and the sight you." I believe the answer to this is "forever." These lines in italics are the epitome of Love the Stranger. They also let us conclude the collection in a way that reinforces the human connection, so that we are no longer strangers.