The Gremlin’s Library: Nonlinear by Theo Adelberg

TW: While I don’t go in depth in the review, this poetry collection deals with child abuse and sexual abuse.

A long time ago, when I was still a baby poet and only just starting to submit poetry to lit journals online, I got a rejection that – in retrospect – was actually quite lovely given that it was obviously personal and not a form rejection. I still don’t know how to feel about it even now, but it rejected the poem because it was ‘too personal’, the editors explained that other readers might have a hard time relating to it, essentially. That part I disagree with, but I suppose I understand why they might not have published it. They were a fairly standard poetry journal, and I was sending them what was, I realize now, pretty heavy vent poetry that I didn’t recognize as such at the time. But that’s something that comes to mind when I read some of the amazing poetry that gets self-published and – as a result – often overlooked. What counts as ‘too personal’? We put ourselves into our work, and the darkest parts of our lives are the parts that others sometimes need to hear the most, because that’s what they need comfort over.

Usually I don’t open my reviews like that! But Nonlinear by Theo Adelberg is a hell of a collection. It’s a short one – closer to zine than chapbook length, with eight poems and eleven pages – and it hits hard. It doesn’t contextualize itself much, either, beyond what it offers in the poetry itself and the TW at the front for abuse and sexual abuse. But oh, god, it does not hold back. The best in the collection, in my opinion, is probably ‘Childhood Memories’ (page 3), but every single poem in here is a heartbroken tightrope walk between love and hate, retelling moments in the author’s childhood with older eyes. “The Judge Will See You Now” holds its bitterness between the lines, and “Learning to Love Myself” spins through interlaced metaphors, pulling forests and galaxies alike into what had been two poems prior (“Pilots in the Cockpit”) a “frail” and “marred and scarred human”.

…My father

stands behind the family in every photograph and glows
with an inner heat that radiates out as he extends
his rays to miles away, scorching us in his attempts

to care, with a heavy hand, leaving bruises…

Childhood memories, nonlinear, Theo Adelberg

In particular, Nonlinear’s use of free verse is absolutely excellent. I find that free verse’s current popularity sometimes encourages a simplicity that doesn’t always serve poets well; metaphors get thrown together clumsily or in search of something avant-garde that doesn’t land. However, Adelberg’s verse is carefully thought through, written almost like prose but with the breaks and underlying rhythm that give it a heartbeat. None of their poems are trying to be metered or rhyming poems and falling short; neither are they prose just chopped up and rearranged. It’s a hard balance to strike, and hard to identify until you see it.

Theo Adelberg’s Nonlinear is available through here!

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