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‘I Would Leave Me If I Could’ Stays Top of Mind

4 Stars

Cover art of "I Would Leave Me If I Could"
Cover art of "I Would Leave Me If I Could" By Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
By Charles W. McCormick, Crimson Staff Writer

“Emotions come and go, they’re either lovely or abusing.” This statement, found in one of her poems, succinctly epitomizes Halsey’s emotional experiences over the years. Yet no one statement could possibly capture the depth, turbulence, and intensity of emotion the singer-songwriter shares with readers throughout her first collection of poetry.

Born in New Jersey but having since toured the world with her successful musical career, Ashley Nicolette Frangipane is best known by her stage name, Halsey. The chart-topping artist’s talents are not limited to the realm of music, however; Halsey embraces writing as another means of expressing herself in her first collection of poetry, “I Would Leave Me If I Could.” The poems — ranging from short, charged snippets of thought to slightly longer, narrative-style writings — grapple with common themes of love and the way our environments shape us, yet Halsey’s work is far from limited in scope. Her sincerity combines with colorful language and a lyrical, rhythmic writing style to paint a refreshingly unfiltered portrait of humanity. This portrait possesses both self-awareness and reverence for the lives of others, rendering Halsey’s work a uniquely enchanting, thought-provoking, and resonant addition to our society’s growing reflections on mental health.

What strikes readers first about Halsey’s meditations are her mesmerizing images — words that underscore not merely a diversity of emotion, but an intensity as well. Her highs are the highest of highs and her lows are the lowest of lows, and this richness of description, alone, is enough to enchant readers. Halsey herself notes that her “capacity to feel has been stretched” by the fans to whom this book is dedicated. Halsey is familiar with love, hate, and everything between, but to the extreme: She finds “a million dandelions blowing through [her] head / and they are beautiful / But when they come at you like one furious wave / (a few times a day) / They stick in your nose and eyes and ears / You explode from the inside out.” In very little space, Halsey manages to imbue her writing with a violence that seems to burst off the page. It is this richness of emotion that enchants and keeps readers wanting more.

But the richness doesn’t overshadow a deeper reflection on life’s tribulations; rather, this very richness enlivens the frustration Halsey so compellingly expresses — a frustration all can relate to. Halsey describes a sense of futility. She is vulnerable to events beyond her control and subject to the world’s construction. In a poem titled “Hereditary,” Halsey recounts that she’s “whatever I’ve seen on a movie screen”; in another poem, she describes her father’s anger living on through her Punnett square; she titles an additional set of poems “Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2.” Images of captivity abound — captivity to the whims of those around her and to emotions that have only ever been felt in the extreme.

But perhaps Halsey’s most interesting captivity is that of her own artistic vision. She describes her desire to write as a curse — “a gnat burrowing into your ear / and laying eggs behind the socket of your eye” — and the “Times New Roman print” flowing out of her mouth “a plague of moths from its depths.” Halsey’s craft allows her to do the joys of life justice and describe them with passion, but it obligates her to an endless life of creation nonetheless. This nuance is mirrored in the fluctuations of her writing style, which is at times blunt and unruly and at others light-hearted and lyrical. “I Would Leave Me If I Could” is self-aware and a poignant reflection on the exhausting nature of love-hate relationships with ourselves and our work.

It’s possible for Halsey’s poetry to feel oversaturated, or mired in an impossibly complex individual experience that can’t transcend the voice of its author. But the descriptions of her own feelings are quelled by her inclusion of others’ experiences. Halsey writes of a sadistic former lover with an equally “hungry mind,” her little brother’s growth after the loss of a friend, and the fragmented romantic experiences of a junkie acquaintance, to name a few. Halsey acknowledges the other individually motivated agents in the surrounding world, each a node interacting through charged, meaningful experiences like synapses firing in a neural network. Halsey’s illustration of emotional turbulence is not confined to a purely personal account. [rather, It is a museum of memories belonging to herself and those around her.

As much grief as the intensity of life’s emotion brings her and as much as she relates “trying to rip out [her] own tongue” for yearning to express said emotion artistically, Halsey remains deeply thoughtful toward the experiences of others. Her perception of mental health and the role it plays in her life extends beyond herself. After all, the book is dedicated to fans whom she praises for having shared parts of themselves with her. Halsey has no shortage of fans for her music, but “I Would Leave Me If I Could” proves that her talent for connecting with people transcends mediums.

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