Amy Berkowitz’s new chapbook, Listen to Her Heart, from Spooky Girlfriend Press (2012), is a venture in getting away with it. When writing poetry, utilizing metaphors of the heart is dangerous territory, (though admittedly, I have done it as well). Some may view metaphors of the heart as cliché, but Amy Berkowitz is somehow able to reinvent the heart, creating innovative comparisons and images that are rarely used by other poets.
The book’s minimalistic, simplistic, and sometimes haphazard stream of similes, as well as its repetition and rhyming, compares to the pop songs it idolizes. The poet’s inclusion of the vernacular of the everyday; the mundane of the daily grind--nothing too fancy--makes the chapbook accessible to a variety of audiences, some of which may be intimidated by the inaccessibility of some modern poetry by other authors. The heart is at once a bowling alley and then a stolen car, an empty bar, a travel mug of coffee, an electric soap dispenser: all things that the common, urban resident can relate to. It seems appropriate that Berkowitz is from New York. Listen to Her Heart is a stride through city life: trains and subways; drug stores; Taco Bell; SkyMall catalogs, and strip malls.
The shifting perspectives of the chapbook; the multiple voices of the heart also helps the common reader to relate to what’s happening. We witness everybody’s heart: “her heart,” “his heart,” “my heart,” and “your heart.” Berkowitz utilizes white space beautifully, which allows the reader to take plenty of breaths between perspectives, between metaphors and images.
Pop music is a central part of this work. Listen to Her Heart is “dedicated to classic rock, according to Berkowitz in the acknowledgements, and opens with lines from the chorus of Tom Petty's song, also called “Listen to Her Heart.” The rest of the book is rife with references to pop music and pop culture:
Ask her heart to name the song.
The 70’s band the Byrds, “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Come as You Are” by Nirvana; Stevie Nicks, K records, Adam Sandler, Uncle Jesse, Dick Van Dyke, and Luke Perry all make an appearance. Listen to Her Heart is certainly like a poetry pop song:
My heart is a jangle-pop song.
I mean this literally.
Pop music is called pop music because it is popular and Amy Berkowitz is writing poetry for everybody: sentimental micro-songs to heal any heart. She mentions in the acknowledgements her mother’s quip: “At least now you’ll understand all those sad songs on the radio.” Indeed,
The heart wants what the heart wants.
Most of us have experienced at least one failed love affair. The songs in this book will ease the pain.
***This review can also be found at Gently Read Literature