Human Kintsugi: A Review of "All Things Beautiful Are Bent" by James Diaz
In All Things Beautiful Are Bent (Alien Buddha Press, 2021), James Diaz explores, reveals, and uplifts both anguish and healing, or the struggle between those points, which never seem fixed. I love this collection.
I close like day into night
into wondering if you know
that what I really mean to say
is more than anything a poem could carry.
from “Grow Me A Garden, Catch Me A Falling Star” (p. 69)
I can’t be sure that I perceive all of Diaz’s meaning and feeling in All Things Beautiful Are Bent but it seems to me they filled their poems with as much honesty, pain, and love as possible. While reading this collection, I imagined human kintsugi.* Instead of filling cracks in pottery with gold, silver, and platinum, rendering the art more precious for its imperfections, Diaz fills scars, wounds, and trauma with light, grace, and compassion, resulting in humans beautiful for imperfections, rather than in spite of them.
Diaz incorporates traditional poetic imagery of trees, rain, and moonlight in startling ways alongside more gritty images of things such as truck stops, highways, and electrical lines, maintaining an atmosphere of troubled space in which people struggle in movement towards wholeness. “I… / want to be the one / who knows every backroad / of you, as it is I know only this sharp / right hand turn… / your initial is like all the neon letters burnt out in my heart…” (p. 9).
Wholeness, in my reading of these poems, may be out of reach. But evident beauty exists in the attempt and the getting close, largely because the speaker wields forgiveness and love as the means in the effort, as well as the end. Diaz’s poetry is void of cynicism and makes no attempt to be gratuitously clever, as poetry sometimes does. All Things Beautiful Are Bent offers sincere, raw poetry that is thoughtful and rich with symbolism and surprise.
“Now here’s a good one: you’re lying on your deathbed. You have one hour to live.
Who is it, exactly, you have needed all these years to forgive?” —
I pocket two things in my nightly round of surrender
the first is only laughter
so that I can have some sense of direction in the dark
the second is knowing that love
has a lot of fear in it
it is our earliest memory
the loss of body tucked into womb
and lungs now called on to fill the gap
between a house once so warm
and a smallness with no particular language
the peculiar winter of unknown faces
stranger than light which pulls at our sticky eyes
is the feeling, all life long
that we’ve lost something
and we don’t quite know what.
Diaz studies the concept of home, and places it in the lives of others rather than in a space; or maybe at the root of longing, an atmosphere outside of reality for some of us. In “Laughter Loves The Company She Keeps,” they write (p. 89):
I used to have the method
now I only have the madness
in the alder bush
dogs bury their loot
for the less fortunate to find
I am one of those tonight
without a home or clue
of where I came from
who I belong to
Diaz sometimes settles us into uncomfortable spaces, but gifts hope, even redemption; and not a kind of pop-psychology, pithy affirmation, but a depth of understanding that we’re always in a state of becoming. And perhaps we too are always in a state of recovering, and certainly longing.
Just when I began to anticipate Diaz’s subjects and atmosphere, I hit upon three poems about Janice Joplin (pp. 85-87). From “Janis Joplin part II:”
you know what I mean sister?
I’m talkin’ 27 years of sorrow
stored like grain in your chest
itching your insides like a wool sweater
I sang the last note but I never knew it was the last
ain’t it a bitch how that works
you hit every note just right
except for that one in the middle
called your life.
I can’t remember enjoying a larger collection of wistful love poems than exists in All Things Beautiful Are Bent. One might argue, all 95 pages are love poems.
It is worth noting that James Diaz is Editor-in-chief of Anti-Heroin Chic, a wonderful online literary journal that publishes poetry, photography, stories, art, essays, and interviews that echo some themes explored by Diaz, such as addiction, trauma, brokenness and beauty, and more. http://heroinchic.weebly.com/ I’ve gratefully lost many hours to this journal. Diaz also offers personal thoughts, likable forlorn photography, and a list of their publications on their website https://jamesjdiaz.weebly.com/
I started this morning with the intention of writing mini-reviews, to uplift some Poets and Poetry that have gotten me through another year in which beautiful words of witness felt essential for connection and celebration of life in these times of such loss. I stacked post-its on my little pile and read three cover-to-cover. But realize this first review of James Diaz’s full-length collection is a full-length review. So I post this alone.
I look forward to sharing more reviews, with renewed resolutions to share reviews to Amazon and Goodreads, in 2022.
Happy New Year! I wish you all good health, comfort, and much love.