A World of What Ifs: A Review of ‘A New Language for Falling Out of Love’ by Meghan Privitello

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A New Language For Falling Out of Love
By Meghan Privitello
YesYesBooks, 2015
78 pages, $16.00
Reviewed by Melanie Tague

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In this debut collection of prose poems from Meghan Privitello the reader travels along with the speaker on a journey of “what ifs.” Privitello shows us there are things to be learned from meditating on the hypothetical and by allowing the hypothetical to seep into the real.

The opening poem for this collection “Perspective” does what the title suggests, it puts the whole collection into perspective so that the reader may enter into the collection with an understanding of each poem. The speaker wishes for the reader to understand that these poems come from a place of desire and longing to return to a simpler time when in the present and future anything was possible, a future filled with what ifs:

The children across the street are speaking too softly to hear. They move their hands in big circles, trying to explain to each other the size of the moon. The boy takes out his toy train from under a tree and I am sure I was once small enough to board it…

As the speaker boards this train we are transported into a liminal space where anything could be possible.

Privitello understands that the liminal space of what ifs she is asking the reader to join her in exploring can get messy, and to combat this messiness she has put each poem into tight prose blocks. In “The Problem is How” questions are posed as statements such as, “What if your sore throat is your body telling you to say a loud something.” And “What if you cannot love the ground because of the way it holds you.” The poem quickly switches to “If, then” type statements of potentialities as the speaker works to take hold of her desires and wishes, shifting to fully declarative statements in an attempt to make possibilities a reality “If you had wings, you could move like a slow child’s description of light.”

In the poem “Hypothetical” the reader is reminded of the vast possibilities that exist for adults despite their ability recognize them, “Sometimes when an animal has exploded on the side of the road it is a very red universe. Anything could begin.”

Just as quickly as the reader is given hope of anything being possible they are quickly reminded of their adulthood, the reality of the life that is currently being lived, the mortality both. In “The Good Life” Privitello writes:

…We hold our hands to our chest and ache towards the future that is unwilling to hold us…None of us are careful when it comes to loving what we think is safe…You say Oh World, you kaleidoscope, you show us something beautiful and take it all away.

This reminder of potential and mortality, endless possibilities and limits pushes the reader in two directions, into hope and also into the same sense of longing that is felt by the speaker.

As the reader continues to follow an exploration of what ifs the speaker makes sure that no one is missing the lessons that can be learned through the hypothetical explorations that have been happening. The poem “Elemental” begins, “In the desert, I learned grief is not as loud as two planes crashing.” The poem doesn’t stop with the there it continues by imagining the potential lessons that could be learned and the facts that will be gleaned from them:

I imagine experiments that will prove the importance of never opening your eyes in front of those you cannot love. This is the origin of blindness. This is sleep’s dark rescue.

Poems such as “Hiding” address when desires and wishes do come true and how often times they are not what is expected or still leave other desires unfulfilled and an even deeper aching for fulfillment of those desires. It begins:

What I’ve wanted is to see a washed up whale. I got my wish. Everyone gathered around with cameras. I said Dear Family, I am so glad you could come. I am sure you had something to do with it. You’re always typing on an invisible keyboard…Once I wished to have my brain electrified. Wet prongs are easy to find. You however, are not. I looked for you under the fading whale. All I found were secrets kept in salt bubbles. When I popped them they said Sorry please try again. I’m tired of trying.

The collection ends with “Little Bird” which brings to light all the things that the speaker never thought of in all their queries of what ifs and potentialities. The poem begins, “I never thought I could say this: I was born with wings. I was flight I was toward.” The speaker has realized they were born to fly, to exist in a space of possibilities. As the collection comes to a close Privitello moves the work out of the liminal space it has been existing within and leave the reader with the most basic lessons that the speaker has learned:

You are temperate and I am temperamental. There are two raw holes in my shoulders. This means I am possible. This means I’m beginning.

A New Language For Falling Out of Love’s stunning prose assures readers that not only are we possible, but anything is possible. It reminds us to never stop asking “what if” to never be afraid to make a “what if” a “this is.” Lastly, Privitello tells assures us that it is okay to ache with desire, it is okay to ask ourselves “What if I ache?”




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Atticus Review is a weekly online journal that publishes stories, poems, flash prose, creative nonfiction, mixed media, book reviews, and other genre-busting words of wisdom and interactive literary whimsy.

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