Reviewed by Craig Hayes II
You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love
by Yona Harvey
Four Way Books
Trade paper, 88 pages, $16.95, ISBN-13: 978-1-945588-56-3
The desire to be loved is an emotion that is easily understood by all, and the memory, the ache, the pain, the solace, and the fleeting of love are all the subjects of Yona Harvey’s latest book of poems, You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love. Yet, rather than the normative mourning of what is lost, Harvey reshapes the evolution of a relationship into a variety of perspectives and revelations which may only be described as fine-tuned and expansive. She throws Black love back and forth through time, on and off-planet in an attempt to reconcile where the speaker finds themselves. However, it does not stop there. Harvey also places love within the context of race, music, film, fantasy, gender, and future. This is not cutesy and it is in no way restrained, but rather Harvey stares loss and want straight in the eye and writes from her heart. From beginning to end, the ride is bumpy and she aims to make her reader feel every toss and turn.
At the core of her work, stands the line “You don’t have to go to Mars for love…” (41). While this is the title for the book itself, as the reader, I could not help but wonder, where do you go for love? And it isn’t until this point is reached that the tone of the book becomes increasingly more resolved, leading to a deeper understanding evident in the text. Everything is laid bare and Harvey creates an incredibly intimate space for the Black lover, saying everything except “I love you” and “I want you back.” This journey has a sort of permanence to it, and it is one that may only be completed by way of endurance, yet “to be willing, is more than enough”, as she writes (41). My question is answered in many ways, but they all point to the notion that the destination is not what is important, and if you pick this up hoping to gain an answer to where you will find love, you will not find it. And that is one of the many beauties of this body of work. In fact, the only place the speaker goes is to themself. Of course, poems throughout converse with writers, musicians, and figures throughout time, and form letters or conversations to the writer and a lost love, in some cases, manifesting them into computer programming logs. Still, every poem returns to the writer, as if they are already situated within their rocketship orbiting Earth for the fifth time, contemplating when to leave orbit, and in what direction.
A powerful conversation running throughout her collection, but in no way invisible, stands Black womanhood. This is certainly an area in which Harvey refuses to pull punches, as she should. In “The Sonnet District”, she writes of the speaker’s ex working for the Federal Bureau of Invisible Women and almost laments how she fell for his blaring red signs saying, “Turns out I’d been wooed by the red-wine/ rhythms of inebriated verse scrawled on napkins & slipped across/ the close-quartered dinner tables of out-of-the-way restaurants” (48). “Snowbound/A Resistance” analyzes the fragility of the choice of a woman saying, “Womanhood is a lost paradise/ The slightest mistake/ could bring disaster” (29), and “Posting Bail” openly finds fault in the practices of prideful men saying, “Apparently, men make ultimatums. & operate under certain condition. & look women in the eye & say, ‘be more professional,’ like your cousin in manface” (50). This is not an exhaustive list of examples, but Harvey’s witnesses to the multifaceted perspectives a Black woman must take on in regards to love (not to mention life itself). The beauty of this is that there are multiple lenses that she maneuvers in and out of, and is forced to wade through. So, in this respect, Harvey gives voice to those who have lost, those who are lost, those who seek love, and those who are attempting to reconcile the world they live in with how to be loved. As the book progresses, a fiery picture forms, illustrating what is ahead, and how to grab hold of loss, which are things that she herself is seeking. In “The Frog District” she writes, “My story leaps elsewhere, spider-webbed/ emerald-eyed, post-weary. I kick/ my way back top”, solidifying the ongoing departure tone of her work. It flaunts her ability to remind the reader that they are companions in the journey, refusing to isolate her audience. And because Harvey is bold throughout, the reading experience is enhanced by way of her sassy, honest, and present tone, with a sting reminiscent of when one decidedly cleans a wound but leaves no room for regret.
Reading through You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love, I experienced a litany of emotion that found me racking through memories, hopes, and losses. The work is astoundingly raw and explorative. Harvey dances between forms and visual presentation with the precision and coherency of a professor, the care of a mother, and the creative wield of a comic book artist. “The Dream District/ Origins” is a testament to this, forcing the reader to jump diagonally and vertically across the page in order to keep up with the Q & A format. It is a perfect example of her ability to make a poem interactive through visual, sonic, and verbal gymnastics. Even with this, You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love is high flying in quality, yet so down to earth that the reader can feel her resolve and the ache. “The Subject of Surrender”, another interactive piece found in the latter half of the collection, situating blank spaces where the most telling info would reside and leaves the reader to put their own history, or assumptions, into the text.
You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love is a must read. Yona Harvey displays her knack for connectivity and the passionate urge to discover. Most of all, she places her heart onto the page and guides her reader to do so as well, making the journey with her. For the Black reader, it is affirming and reassuring. For the non-Black reader, it is informative and succeeds in connection. And for any reader, it is revelatory. Harvey’s potential and wisdom with the pen is undeniable with this body of work, once again showcasing her vast repertoire. You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love takes everything we know of love, and places it in orbit. And it is one trip, you do not want to miss.
About the reviewer: Craig Hayes II is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, having majored in English Writing with a minor in Secondary Education. Hailing from Houston, Texas, Craig is a poet, musician, and a lover of all forms of art and expression. He will be obtaining an MFA at NYU in the fall.