REVIEW: daryl hall is my boyfriend by erica lewis

daryl hall is my boyfriend ends with erica lewis's process notes, a section that's not necessary to read before embarking on the journey but it’s helpful nonetheless:

There are specific memories attached to Hall and Oates songs…the title daryl hall is my boyfriend suggests both an intimacy with the past and a distance from the past. I grew up listening to Hall and Oates, but these poems are not ‘about’ their songs or what they ‘mean,’ but rather what the songs trigger and mean to me now.

I'm pairing that with a note I wrote in the margins of the poem "the ways and means are the parts subject to change": what is it about music that transports us and triggers memories from a time or place so easily and effortlessly?

To lewis, daryl hall is aptly a symbol or stand-in for a boyfriend -- not the guy you spend summers with learning his ins and outs and everything about but the memory of him. The idea of sharing. The feeling the memories give. You think you know everything about him and soon discover all of the things you don't. You realize all of the things you'll never understand about him, about memory, of course, and yourself in the middle of all these reflections:

you can't be turning me on and off again

it's hard not to notice

how you wear the feelings of one person modified by another

in the feelings of one person modified by another

i feel peculiar noticing this

Although lewis has never met Hall, I believe that her intimacy with his music runs through the disjointed narrative of her memory and, at one time, the narrative of her present. It's a sad moment in the poems when the speaker acknowledges (time and again) that every living moment on this earth becomes memory almost the moment you live it:

but everything together yes everything we do is about moving forward

only sometimes/ all you ever capture is that feeling in your chest

The present becomes the past the minute you breathe it. We are all trying to hold onto something that is so quickly slipping away, something no one has ever figured out how to hold onto. Everything we experience comes to us in lag, it's delayed.

pretend that words can make a humanness between us

you say, "see here, we are in a moment" 

and i say, except on the page where it happens always

The most evocative part of lewis’s poetry in this collection is her usage of blank space, how the caesura inhales and exhales, like memory in between the melodies and verses of all the same songs we know, we love, and that trigger in us specific feelings:

ghosts speak between the beats

like a heartbeat, drives you mad

A chord struck in a familiar song can feel like time travel sometimes, and lewis contends with what this does to us, how we remember, and push back against how memory can be so slippery. Like time. Like reality. Like all else. 


When I would drop into readings hosted by Brown University (back when I lived in the same neighborhood), it seemed that the students were expected to ask the visiting poet questions about their work. All of the students had read the work (presumably for a class) and had their copies in hand at the Q & A. There was always someone in the audience who would ask the poet about the usage of one particular word. They would say something like “I noticed you said the word shoelace 36 times in your collection, can you speak more about that?”


At the risk of sounding like one of these students (who sounded, to me, like someone trying to get participation points), I noticed that lewis mentions ‘origami’ enough for it to recur and spark my interest. I love the juxtaposition between origami and time/memory -- origami begins with a single sheet of paper, crinkled and folded into different shapes. Sometimes a crane, sometimes a plane, sometimes a lotus blooming. The shapes change but the material is still the same, the stuff that memory is made of. Memories are always shifting, who we are is always fleeting, but so long as we hold onto the idea that the pleats don't define it, I think we're going to be OK.