In Which I Play the Runaway by Rochelle Hurt (Barrow Street Press, 2016)
Rochelle Hurt’s second poetry collection, In Which I Play the Runaway, does more than summon narratives of origin and growth—the poems command another language with a new alphabet of “boxcar beats,” of fluorescence, linoleum, of living inside “this hissing kettle of a house.” In impossibly small spaces, Hurt demands the creation of another sight, reckoning with the speaker’s unflinching desires.
The book layers itself with self-portraits in which the speaker imagines herself as something else. The images build upon one another until it almost becomes too much, yet the poems pace themselves accordingly. In “Poem in Which I Play the Cheat,” the speaker tells us about the origins of her love. She asks us to
“understand before it began before that—
Sun as first love: when I was small”
and eventually says
“What I mean is that I fall in love with surfaces.”
I am stunned by how these stories accumulate to form an expansive landscape of the self. I read this collection when I was traveling, and even though these poems spread across various locales, the central voice does not waver through its changes, growths, and revelations. Hurt’s poetry has the power to transform a constrained space into one of power. For example, “Halfhearted,” one of the collection’s prose breaks, ends with this:
“But here’s where I got a break: on the seventh day of each week I lived in the pit of myself. Houseless, husbandless, I slept outside, balanced on a rock—tough, whole, unable to be consumed by any desire. On those nights I was happy.”
In Which I Play the Runaway begins with a “last chance” and ends with “honesty” Through this journey, the self is made resilient, each time more complicated than before. Hurt converts the impossible into a real possibility and in so doing, makes the truth undeniable. This collection is a must for anyone thinking of transcendent landscapes and the intense making of the self.