“isn’t this the strangeness in love? you find yourself batting away jelly in the knees over the most ordinary of movements–“
As anybody who has undergone heartbreak is likely to tell you, it rarely follows a linear narrative. We are not given the simplicity and structure of rising action, climax, and falling action when it comes to the messiness of our own lives.
In his sophomore collection of poetry titled After Her, January Black lures us in with the promise of structure. The book is divided into three acts: “before her”, “her”, and inevitably, “after her”.
It begins with a boisterous introduction with the poem “who the fuck is January Black?” Our narrator reveals himself to be an alter ego, a romanticized version of the author not unlike the selves we put out onto social media.
This is the core tension of After Her. Yes, the rift that grows between lovers, but also the rift that grows between the different versions of ourselves. And just like our fractured narrator, After Her tells us it is one thing and shows us another.
The helpful timeline of before, during, and after is only skin deep. A breakup book for the ages, After Her functions less as a story and more as a hurricane.
“a part of it is me trying to figure out who Cole is when January isn’t in the room”
January Black’s writing reflects the displaced nature of re-entering the world after a breakup. Some poems glance around frantically, looking for an escape route, others are glossy-eyed, recollecting the past.
In a fifteen-page poem titled “let’s set the scene” January Black tells the entire story of the rising and falling of his relationship. It is factual, straightforward, told from a safe distance.
Yet in the very next poem, “docs” he struggles to even discuss his lover’s shoes, choking out a single word in each line as if in excruciating pain.
Like the narrator himself, After Her is coming to terms with a new reality. Some poems are empowered and ready to move on, only to be followed by one that is desperate, futile, and in pain.
“you find that you can look yourself in the mirror again. you don’t have her back but you have the next best thing–yourself.”
In the end, the narrator decides to take some time off Instagram. At this point, however, it is unclear whether that is January Black or Cole Schafer. It is unclear if the differentiation matters anymore.
In the end, he simply tells his lover that he needs to stop writing about her.
After Her does not preach healing, it does not show us a neat and victorious narrator having completely recovered from the mess of it all. Rather, it hangs its head, shrugs its shoulders, and tells us that it tried its best.
Thankfully for us, its best is a potent, beautiful, and heartbreaking read.
You can order a special edition copy of After Her by clicking here. Copies of the original release of After Her, as well as One Minute, Please can be found on all major retailers such as Amazon, Barnes, and Noble, etc.
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