Review: Life After Rugby by Eileen G’Sell (reviewed by Laura Eppinger)

Life After Rugby

By Eileen G’Sell

Gold Wake Press, 2017


ISBN: 978-1640084650

Eileen G’Sell’s poetry collection “Life After Rugby” (Gold Wake Press, 2018, $14.95, 74 pages) presents moments of wonder and pain through vocabulary and forms certain to enchant. The dedication of the collection includes two quotations to set the tone: one from Simone Weil about the fleeting beauty of the world, and this one from Mike Tyson: “There’s nothing more deadly and proficient than a happy fighter.”

With these fierce words in mind the reader is greeted by the first poem, “Follow the Girl in the Red Boots,” a sublime invitation to forget what “plenty of people” do, say or expect. There’s magic in the closing stanza:

“Follow the girl in the stolen shoes.
Follow the map that she made you.

Follow the soar of her certain song.
Plenty of people won’t.”

The entire poem celebrates the road less traveled, but infuses a mystical feminine air into the concept to birth it anew.

From here G’Sell leads us to the poem “Women and Children,” then breathlessly into “The Reason the Moon Moves.” These poems seem to reference one another, leading back to each other in a sacred circle. In these verses, the wonder and mischief (“The world is full of women and children. They are lifting, spitting. … They are dirtier than you remember—holier, too.”) of women and children are able to keep cosmic bodies in orbit, or to melt the equator of Earth.

This is a vision of power without violence or coercion: “On quiet horses, women and children are storming the city today.” For women and children, their very existence is their power. Their joy is their strength.

In the world of “Life After Rugby,” it is possible to find ecstasy even in the difficult bits of life. “Camus Comes Out of a Coma,” posits that if heaven exists it’s a place where all beings get to be adorable. “The pitbull, the vulture, the substandard tip: they too will be adorable,” the poem promises. The repetition of the word puts in mind religious ritual, and the ancient connotation of adoration of an icon overpowers the contemporary How cute! usage.

Let’s talk about language: Every reader is encouraged to relish words like “ambrosial” and crack a smile at stanzas like this one from “Ode to Taxi Driver”:

I got mean veins, but a kind heart.
The kind keep trying to talk to me.

Yet for all the giddy uses of the archaic, “Life After Rugby” stays contemporary due in part to its odes to movies, singers, and celebrities. Pop culture is revered, for one example, in poem about Sigourney Weaver and power (“Deep Space Dialectic”). This is followed by “Ode to Clint Eastwood.” Later, G’Sell’s “Ode to Whitney Houston” encourages readers to take long baths while singing like a diva. We’ll even return to Mike Tyson; he gets his own ode in Part IV of the collection. (My personal favorite ode is dedicated to the 1953 film “Roman Holiday,” though Whitney Houston’s tribute comes close!)

Indeed, all elements of life are roundly approached with curiosity here. “All Epics Are Disappointing and All Disappointments Are Epic” begins: “Sometimes I like to have feelings because they are so impractical. They are electric-green Mary Janes on a hike and they are my favorite color.” And so, even the difficult and inconvenient facets of life are honored in G’Sell’s work.

The titular poem, presented in seven parts and varying forms, may require several readings. Read one way, the poem is delivered from the standpoint of Life herself, wandering and banging into dead ends or dark corners occasionally. But Life dances on, vigorously, and G’Sell follows her back home to radical joy.

Laura Eppinger is a Pushcart-nominated writer of fiction, poetry, and essay. Her work has appeared at the Rumpus, the Toast, and elsewhere. She’s the blog editor at Newfound Journal.
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