The Medieval Infused with the Modern: A Review of Romances by Taylor Thompson

Another wonderful book of poetry has entered the world through Louisiana State University Press by none other than recent Miracle Monocle contributor, Lisa Ampleman. This book will be her second full-length poetry collection, following Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), which was the winner of the Stevens Manuscript Competition sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Ampleman is also the author of I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012), winner of the Wick chapbook competition. Ampleman’s poems have appeared on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, 32 Poems, Cave Wall, Cimarron Review, Image, Kenyon Review Online, Massachusetts Review, Natural Bridge, New Ohio Review, New South, Notre Dame Review, Poetry, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Sugar House Review. Ampleman holds a BA from Beloit College, an MFA from George Mason University, and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. She was the Mona Van Duyn Scholar in Poetry at the 2013 Sewanee Writers Conference and is the recipient of two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes. She was a Mullin Scholar at the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC from 2013-15. She lives in Ohio, where she is the managing editor of The Cincinnati Review.

          Romances is split into five sections and carries Ampleman’s modern perspective throughout her many contexts of romance. She infuses medieval ways with modern items and perspectives. The most common theme running through the poems in this book includes the concepts, both real and perceived of sorrow and pain caused by a current and/or former lover. Love and death go hand in hand, so pain is just a part of romance. A great number of Ampleman’s poems tell of death and/or pain to a romantic partner or oneself due to the partner. The tragedy of romance is continuing to love despite the knowledge of consistent or inevitable pain, yet there is beauty in it. In the third section of Romances, the poem “XI. HOLE” beautifully articulates this point, “No matter what you tell yourself, doll heart, the missing parts make possible the art.”

          The first section, "Reading a Romance Together," is the most medieval in its romance with themes of death and pain. Most of the poems are responses to previously written works by medieval/older writers, three of these works are made know by the excerpt placed before them in the actual poem. Of every poem in this section, “Anne” skillfully intertwines the themes of death, pain, and nature. For me, this is where I first saw love and death come hand in hand, a ken connection throughout the book. Two of the poems in this section, however, have Ampleman’s touches of modernity by the items in our reality of everyday life. Such as in the poem “Love-Scrawls” reads, “We mark bathroom stalls in rest stops, black Sharpie and ballpoint pen, safety pin.” Each of us has seen writing in a bathroom stall and used a sharpie or ballpoint pen. These are items of our everyday life, something tangible to us.

          The next section, "The Toxic Unrequited Suite," is still relatively medieval but moves forward into a modern take with more reality to it. The poem “Dead Ringer” in this section tells of a modern knight in a hotel lobby during cocktail hour trying to romance a woman. The depth and uniqueness of this poem were the highlight of the section due to the perfect fusion of a classic medieval man to a modern life. The themes most prevalent in this unit are sickness, death, and nature. There are three poems that are preceded by past poems or writings of older authors that elicit Ampleman’s response. The poem “My Weak Constitution” is preceded by a piece of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 147”.

          In section three, "Courtly Love (For Courtney Love)," an emphasis arises concerning aspects of drug use and music in a relationship along with the main themes of death, nature, and pain. This is the largest unit of the book having 21 poems. My favorite poems come from this section because of the shift toward mainly modern and introspective outlooks on romance. In poem “XIII. SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT” readers see the blur of pain and love from the use of drugs in the narrator’s own life and the lives of the people she loves. Fashion is also a weird theme in this unit as it relates to love and self-image. For example, the poem “XV. LOVE, THE MODEL; LOVE, THE DESIGNER” speaks of a woman whose body has become like a mannequin in which there is complete disregard for herself. Yet this is by far the best section of the book because of the point of view toward oneself and not another lover. It was empowering for me as a woman to see other women stand up for themselves more.

          In the fourth section, "Dragonfly Love," Ampleman writes on the nostalgia of everyday life, yet keeps the sting of pain ever present. She uses the places she has been, people she knows, and experiences she has felt to articulate the pain in modern love. In the poem, “Gilding the Lily” comes the quote, “we name our storms to lessen them—" which describes what poetry is. Though readers might not write of their storms, they give names to seasons of life by the lessons that are learned to numb the pain that they felt. Ampleman does not cease to bring personal depth to each reader in one way or another.

          The fifth section, “The Unimagined Afterward,” shift through modern love, romance, dating just to land on the pains of marriage. Each theme is touched on in this section to bring unity to the variety in the book. The standout poem of this section was “Vows” because it did not focus on the pain caused by each lover toward the other, but the individual pains of each lover that brought them together. In this poem, the two lovers each have personal health issues, yet vow to help the other even though the aliment does not pertain directly to them. It is a wonderful take on an eternal aspect of romance, marriage, which is the last context of romance Ampleman visits. In the last poem of the book, “The Story’s End,” she speaks of a shared afterlife between romantic partners.

          Across the entirety of the book, the themes of death and pain, nature, music, sickness, and drugs reoccur across the many contexts of the poems. The third section was my personal favorite, because it is more of an anthem for women in their personal romances rather than an outlook on a romantic partner. My favorite three poems in this book are “I. ALL WHO HEAR,” “III. SHE REPLIES,” and “XV. LOVE, THE MODEL; LOVE, THE DESIGNER.” Each one is so different and empowering, while painfully real at the same time. Each time I reread them, I feel all the more inspired and enthralled by Ampleman’s use of words and meanings. She does an outstanding job in making this book personal to each and every reader. Make sure to grab your copy, or even pre-order a copy or two, of Romances by Lisa Ampleman, coming February 5th, 2020. Barnes and Noble will be selling a paperback copy for $19.95 USD and a NOOK book for $8.49 USD. Books-A-Million and Amazon also have paperback copies, with preordering available for 19.95 USD, but Amazon has a Kindle option for $9.95 USD. To read Ampleman's poems in a previous issue of Miracle Monocle, click here.

TAYLOR THOMPSON is a poetry editor of Miracle Monocle.