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‘In a Dream You Saw A Way To Survive’: Slam Poetry Fails to Say Anything New

2.5 Stars

Clementine von Radics’ third poetry collection “In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive” is unimpressive and feels somewhat underdeveloped. Even with some successful emotional moments, the collection is an essentially an unoriginal transition from slam poetry to the written word. The book is characterized by mainly short and personal poems centered around the arc of recovery from the dissolution of a relationship, the process of letting go, and then falling in love again. Other themes are featured throughout including pieces on mental illness, abortion, and nostalgia, but reflections on heartbreak and healing are the heart of the collection. Other than a few gems with interesting perspectives, the collection is generally lacking and fails to deliver distinctive and memorable works that last beyond momentary emotional beats.

Unfortunately, the language used to discuss heartbreak and infidelity fail to stand out from the broad expanse of work by modern poets working in the vein of Rupi Kaur’s short and punchy poems. Several pieces come off as cliché with lines like, “The mistake was mine for trusting you” and “I am afraid I will love you forever and we will never be in the same room again.” The latter line comes from “The Fear,” a piece that is essentially just two sentences with lines breaks, given the lack of figurative language, imagery, or even surprise that generally characterizes poetry. Pieces like “The Fear” and “Confession:” seem more like diary musings than thoughtfully crafted poetry: They may carry some emotional weight, but ultimately lack the craft or ingenuity it takes to make them compelling. The collection also persistently uses metaphors of birds, broken glass and buildings, mouths; yet, this connection between poems does not seem to build in a meaningful way so much as it just repeats.

The overall organization of the collection is also confusing. While the basic arc of the poems is intuitive, a woman grapples with her partner’s cheating and departure before coming to terms with it and falling in love again, unrelated poems are interspersed. The collection ultimately touches on a myriad of topics but how exactly those other topics fit in the scheme of this romantic development is unclear.

The collection is actually more successful when it discusses subjects unrelated to romance. For instance, “A Conversation Between My Therapist and the Mouth That Sometimes Belongs to Me” dances around the edges of mania and mental health with unexpected perspectives and development. It demands a second read and unfolds with examination. “Still We Swing” draws on nearly cliché nostalgic beats of adventurous high school summers, but captures all the cathartic angst of “Our dirty scramble of discount limbs… A scream where a family should be.” “Post-term” discusses abortion with incredible brevity and language like “[I] became a pregnant hollow. A swelling brood of Absence” and “I open my mouth and her hands fall out.” The next poem in the collection, “To the Protester Outside the Clinic Who Called Me a Murderer” also presents an impactful perspective on loss and desire but is also an example of a piece that would almost certainly perform better spoken than read.

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Von Radics is one of many spoken word poets to recently publish printed collections of their work. Yet, this type of publication essentially diminishes the critical distinctions between spoken word and traditional poetry, in that spoken word is fundamentally a word-based performance art. Translated to the page, these pieces can often lose some of their kinetic energy and read like prose with less attention paid to concision and visualization on the page. Particularly as performance poetry can now be spread and immortalized through video and the Internet, it is unclear why these pieces need to be reduced to the page when it does not seem to match their intended medium.

Ultimately, Von Radics’ collection features a few unique and fascinating perspectives and manipulations of language, but not enough to leave a lasting impact in the midst of several overworked themes and forms. It is difficult to discern what makes this collection distinctive and memorable, but it makes for a very quick read that often pulls the heartstrings. Perhaps it is better to just look up videos of Von Radics’ performances instead.

—Staff writer Jenna X. Bao can be reached at jenna.bao@thecrimson.com.

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