Alexis Pope, That Which Comes After, Big Lucks Books, 2018

[Review Guidelines]

That Which Comes After

Alexis Pope's That Which Comes After is a chronicle and archive of everything that comes after, encompassing both afterglow and aftermath, without the heavy hand of nostalgia or indifference which could potentially rob the work of honest insight and emotionality. The poems can be read as individualized poems, sure, but the work can also be read as a book-length poem, a testament not only to the form of the book-length poem genre, but also to the cohesiveness of the voice as a whole. A reader could so easily ignore the titles, allowing the book a different kind of life on the page; however, it would be remiss to not mention that, individually with titles, the poems also have a dazzling, coherent, graceful life of their own. Whether read as a collection or a book-length work, the voice of the speaker seamlessly obfuscates, eviscerates, remonstrates, and celebrates that which comes after in our lives, both presently, in the past, and in the projection of potentiality of what could come after in the future.
     That Which Comes After also has an undeniable documentary poetics quality, as if the point-of-view is a lens through which the speaker channels the act of witness to and accounting of the joy and horror of life in equal measures. Each poem wields itself as a fluid zoom, connecting the language and mood one into the next in a trajectory resembling photography or film. For example, in "What Constitutes Winning" the speaker says:

Bright blue convertible

Could describe the first years

You've never let me

It's only now I'm realizing

My last years in monochrome

and in "If I Take My Pill":

My apologies

To the projector

Some pictures

Should never be.

     In these moments, like so many in the work, the language and lines enact the very essence of film and witness—be it picture or video—allowing the reader into a visual juxtaposition of documenting like that of bright blue with essence of monochrome or a montage sequence as if through a projector, one slide after the next, of captured moments, even if they, as the speaker says, should never be. Still, they are immortalized throughout within a documentary medium (video, photo, text) to act as a witness.


What Does Come After?

And after what, exactly? Pope shows us the survival of what comes after an abusive relationship; suicide attempt(s)?; motherhood and miscarriage; loss of people, places, and things; the journey into maturity and adulthood; and even what can or should or does come after the minutiae of life—which can and will ultimately aid in saving us—such as hooking up with someone, cocktails, the Internet. It is the collocation of the enacting and documenting of the 'after' where the power of the poetry resides. For example, in the theme of an abusive relationship, the relationship of the I to the Other is explored in the revisiting, reimagining, living inside what comes after. In "What's the Saddest Song," the speaker says,  

Do you even have

Plans for the future

Something he asked me

To remind I have nothing

Of value to offer

     And in documenting moments where the expected is supposed to happen, we are encapsulated by losses and the absence of the other even when close. In "You Are Compared to Silence":

I wake at 5am contracting

Literal pain in my neck travels

The distance through

Approach another life

Where the one beside me

Gives a fuck about my pain

Or wants to help I'm not

Complaining but here I am

     Through the investigation of the relationship, the I moves into an evolution of awareness of personhood, what has come after for her: "I think violence might be/more intimate but it's not," "Someplace new & without/A person I called my life," "You remind me how empty/Being covered can be," and "We exist in the ending for/Years rebuilt at our sides."


LOL (Haha Funny or Uncanny or Irony)

While the heaviness of the 'after' seems bleak, there is so much humor and levity in this book which feels like relief, both for the reader and for the speaker, true to life itself. This humor can be found in individual lines, moments, and what can be read as titles such as "I Am So Reckless in These Five-Dollar Jeans," "Bookshelves Can Be Sexy," "We Banged Each Other's Others," and "I Want Everyone to Like Me So Hard." In "I Want Everyone to Like Me So Hard," the speaker says,

Up in elementary school we tried

To imitate Aerosmith's Crazy

Remember how important music

Videos were to your childhood

If not you're too young to talk to me

and in "I Mean There Are Specific":

All my exes

Think I'm cute still

But also hate me

With this much

Lexapro sure it's possible

and in "In Peacetime We Feel the Same As":

Finish this Corona

We're too old to have such bad taste

     These places of levity are not few-and-far between, but arrive exactly when needed, to allow the reader (and the speaker) to be reminded of the multiplicity that every situation and occurrence in our lives contain, to give us permission to laugh at the absurdity, and to remember the lightness that can line every burden that the 'after' itself carries.


That Which Comes After: And They All Lived Happily Ever After (The End)

By the end of the book, an awakening occurs—a personal and spiritual evolution of the speaker, a sense of growth and rebirth, of movement and making room for, and an acknowledgment that this evolution is only the beginning, a sense of thriving (and not just surviving) the 'after,' and the sense that, we, too, all of us, can thrive in our own 'after,' in whatever permutation it arrives for us. The speaker says, in "I've Lived Half Awake Before":

State my rebirth

All grown up

The distance between

Hatch an egg 


Blacked out a name

Blacked out another

That's not resistance

But moving over

     The reader (and the speaker/I) revels in a sense of closure and reassurance, even if the feeling is fleeting, as it is in life. Here, the final credits roll, and an ending (and beginning, which is the constant ouroboros we all face) will arrive in all of its glory, to teach and heal and pervade, and hopefully, triumph. Pope writes, in the final line, "Whatever you left with stays gone," and, we can only hope for this sentiment to be true. [KJS]