Review of The Jolt: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich by Julie Weiss

The Jolt: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich cover
The Jolt: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich
Julie Weiss
Bottlecap Press, 2023, 32 pages

Reviewed by Pelaya Arapakis

The Jolt: Twenty-One Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich by Julie Weiss is a dazzling poetic collection that revels in the majesty and resilience of lesbian love. The chapbook gorgeously echoes Adrienne Rich’s 1976 work, Twenty-One Love Poems, both in essence and in form, indulging us with tender vignettes of a budding relationship set in Spain. Brimming with lush, image-laden descriptions of love, the collection can be read as a tribute not only to Rich but to lesbian erotic histories.

Weiss imbues a potent sensuality throughout her collection, punctuating scenes of the daily mundane with a lust of cosmic proportions. In poem VI, the narrator is overwhelmed by the surging currents of desire: “Every / object I hand to you takes the shape / of rapture. We are two women / on a park bench, daydreaming, the space / between our hips unbearable” (6). The narrator aches for the touch of her lover, and this need for her lover’s embrace has become a basic necessity of life, much like food. This is strikingly distilled in poem II, where the narrator muses, “How, even before I learn the word for / starvation, mine navigates the expectation of your breasts, your belly, the placid trail / downwards” (2). The ebb and flow of all-encompassing desire is also mirrored in The Jolt’s poetic structure. Weiss’ poems are arranged in five sets of couplets, and the poet plays with the constraints of this framework with dexterity. The emotional intensity of her poems often pushes up against the borders of this structure, threatening to burst right off the page.

In the same breath, Weiss refuses sanitised depictions of lesbian love and does not shy away from portraying the tensions that come with being visibly queer. Public displays of affection are often disrupted by intruding scenes of casual homophobia and sexual harassment. In poem VIII, the narrator soberly recounts, “In London, a couple like us was harassed / on a bus. Assaulted. Kiss! they roared” (8). In poem XIV, a public kiss shared by the lovers provokes a “leer of ruffians” (15). However, the transcendent nature of the couple’s love resists heterosexist hostility with both radiance and vigour. The narrator declares in poem IX, “I’d write an ocean full of poems, pull / the haters under the surging tide of our love” (9). Weiss does just that. Her collection stands as a testament to the sheer strength and beauty of a love that knows no bounds. The Jolt is a feast for the heart.

Pelaya Arapakis (she/her) is a Sinister Wisdom intern based in Naarm/Melbourne, Australia. She holds a BA in History from The University of Melbourne and is currently completing her Master’s in Arts and Cultural Management. She is also a musician and cultural worker. She is passionate about lesbian archiving, culture, and history.

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