Review of kiss+release by Anthony DiPietro

by Mar 4, 2024Book Reviews

     “honey, if i’m real / i been fuckin’ around,” writes Anthony DiPietro in his forthcoming collection, kiss + release, from Unsolicited Press. DiPietro’s debut is muscular, dynamic, and unafraid, mercilessly splicing together the queer joys of so-called meaningless sex and a life brimming with too much meaning. But kiss + release is about more than queer sexual revolution, although boy on boy remains at its core, and confession is its thumping heartbeat—it manages to go deep into the heart, twisting and turning around politics, language, form and art. There is much to admire from DiPietro, who proves again and again with formal innovation and meticulous planning that this book was not tossed off the way the men who populate its pages are used and then discarded (or how the speaker uses and then discards himself); rather, this is a war cry, a lullabye, a scream and a curse and a song and a prayer all at once. DiPietro is not looking away from the darker parts of himself, and as his readers, we are not looking away. The only way out, for all of us, DiPietro promises us again and again and with increasingly beautiful language—the only way out  for us is through. 

     “…I could not love ordinary men, only wolves or their hunters, canine packs,” writes DiPietro in “possession diary,” where he lists potential devils and their effects on him. There is a surprising tongue-in-cheek to almost everything DiPietro writes, from the organization of the collection, which is separated into movements labeled with the monikers: “love is finished again,” to the titles of the poems, such as “interview after accepting big literary award.” DiPietro’s sense of humor is almost as well calibrated as his sense of drama—and he swings between these two poles seamlessly. Along for the ride as readers, the result is somewhat erratic, but DiPietro’s control of his own voice allows for such a confidence in him that it’s not jarring at all; rather, it’s pleasing to bounce between mood states. 

     DiPietro’s observations about the world around him are icepick sharp. Many of the moments in this collection are memorable, few more so than this: “when I say i’m in love / i don’t say i’m in love. i say i’m in trouble.” There are countless examples of DiPietro’s wit in this debut, and his juxtapositions of high and low art bring a clarity and depth to this work that remains a throughline throughout the entire collection. Tonally, the book ebbs and flows, but DiPietro’s ability to manipulate his voice, and by extension, the reader and their emotions, creates a narrative to this collection and encourages the reader to devour the book as quickly as possible, hungry for more of his linguistic motion. 

     One of the joys of this collection is its self-awareness. DiPietro is not trying to be timeless—he is conscious of his audience as well as his interests, and poems like “a gen xer and a millennial speak on the end of the world,” and “[auto reply text message] the poet is driving right now,” make for poetic movements that feel modern, contemporary, and comical. Similar to Franny Choi’s The World Keeps Ending and the World Goes On, DiPietro has incorporated elements of the world we live in, such as Grindr, texting and other technology which are integrated into the poetic form and allow for new spaces to be opened up in terms of what poetry can be—not only is he innovating formally, but he is questioning the very nature of what a poem is, and expanding that conception. 

     Formally, DiPietro attempts all sorts of things, and the effect is one of trial-and-error, with chunky, blocky prose poems and thin, wiggly zig-zags competing for attention at all different moments of the book. DiPietro has a solid control over the form in most cases, but it can be a little distracting to watch him jump around; although there is the sense of logic in many of the formal innovations he makes, the reader does wonder precisely what motivated these decisions. DiPietro is remarkably successful at making these different forms feel cohesive, and it’s a feat to bridge these battling ways of approaching a poem, as well as incredibly ambitious, but perhaps slightly distracting from the powerhouse of language that he has created. 

     In queer poetics, the narrative is often one of suffering, or loneliness—but this is not your typical coming-out story. DiPietro is not asking for forgiveness, and his speaker is not guilty; rather, his speaker is curious, testing the limits of the self and where the self ends and others begin. This malleability of the boundary between the self and the world is something we must all reckon with, and it’s how we fall in love, by removing the boundaries between ourselves and another—DiPietro is just doing the hard work for us. 

     As a debut, it’s a powerful one. This reader remains eager to see what comes next. 

kiss+release is now available from Unsolicited Press. Order the book here.

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