Don’t be fooled by the title of Joseph Lease’s collection of poems, though the world may be “broken,” the collection spends its time rebuilding, rationalizing and living despite it. Repetition fuels the elegy, “Broken World (for James Assatly),” a poem built in sections, a poem that works to remember a friend and writer who died of AIDS. The poem’s repetition is representative of how the collection operates: poems announce what things are not, only to reconstruct the world with its pieces. So, in the elegy, Lease repeats what things “won’t be”:
won’t be stronger. won’t be water. / won’t be dancing or floating berries. / won’t be a year. Won’t be a song. / Won’t be taller. Won’t be accounted / a flame. Won’t be a boy. Won’t be / any relation to the famous rebel.
The repetition - such as the repetition in Gertrude Stein’s pieces in Tender Buttons - creates a plain where things will be, where the poem allows for things to be stronger, a song, and taller. The other statement Lease repeats is “and I shatter / everyone who hates you.” The poem shatters not only homophobia, not only the loss of another person to AIDS, but shatters Assatly’s anonymity. In the back of the book, it’s stated that Assatly’s novel Hejira remains unpublished; these poems provide a space to praise Assatly.
The last poem of the collection exists in sections, each titled, “Free Again.” Through the use of space play and his use of the dash, Lease allows the reader to link associations, and to continue the thought. In this poem, Lease is offering a freedom of language and a freedom to make associations. Again, his use of negation offers the reverse. He may write, “... – there are no symbols, no spells –...” but the poetry collection is full of symbols and links of image, statement, and sound. The collection ends with the lines: “I can remember my secret book – / I was a ghost, you were the only one / who could hear me –.” By ending the book with not only the second person address to the reader, but with the dash, extends the conversation past the confines of the page. Lease’s space play, elliptical poems and second person address causes the reader to engage and read in a new way.