As the Roman Empire came to an end, a new Latin word, romanice, came into use. It meant something spoken or written in the vernacular, rather than the official language of imperium. By the Middle Ages, romanice had morphed into romans, or romanz. The word described narrative works composed in everyday language, and at the time, there were many stories of chivalrous knights, courtly trysts, and ritual affection. Elaine Kahn’s latest book of poems, Romance or The End, uses and misuses the narrative conventions and vocabularies of the romance genre to show that all loves—and all selves—are fictions. Though that doesn’t mean they aren’t true.
The collection’s first three chapters trace early romantic entangling, the hatching of love’s egg. One of nine poems she titles “Romance,” this one from the chapter “The Long Month,” suggests some of love’s effects: “It breaks the muscle / and voids the temple / and the stomach / and is diurnal.” In this quatrain, bodies rip pleasantly, the hierarchy of needs gets flipped. Night reigns. But the poems are not all starry-eyed. They reveal love as transaction, as sick fantasy, as culturally and historically situated. In another poem titled “Romance,” Kahn pushes against fuzzy cliché:
I have heard it said
but I have
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