Annelyse Gelman - From Greek mythology to Top 40, Pavlov to Sartre, the space station to the zoo: “Look, the future is all telepathy and disappointment and pretending we haven’t always been winging it. Every day we’re the strongest we’ll ever be. What doesn’t kill you hasn’t killed you yet.”

Annelyse Gelman, Everyone I Love Is A Stranger To SomeoneWrite Bloody, 2014.

“Look, the future is all telepathy and disappointment and pretending we haven’t always been winging it. Every day we’re the strongest we’ll ever be. What doesn’t kill you hasn’t killed you yet.” From Greek mythology to Top 40, Pavlov to Sartre, the space station to the zoo, Annelyse Gelman’s debut collection of poems collides dark humor and unexpected sweetness.

“The instability of life, its aching craziness, is not usually met with the poise these poems show. Vulnerable yet full of spunk, Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone is startlingly delightful–or is that delightfully startling? Either way, reader, prepare yourself for a new, strange joy.”–Dean Young

“Annelyse Gelman is an extraordinary poet who is able to tear language and sense apart and deftly put it back together in her very own way. Sometimes the result is as subtle as a soft kiss to an orchid, other times everything is blown to bits by the expert loft of a hand grenade. across her amazing range, she will demand of you the same humour, intensity and intelligence. Keep this collection safe; once you have got into her voice, you won’t want poetry to be quite the same again.”–Jodie Dalgleish

Annelyse Gelman is a fearless writer. Unafraid of vulnerability, of her own sublime awkwardness, of delving deeply into pain, she reaches out towards her readers with her emotional transparency, which is never mawkish, never self-indulgent, but self-aware, wise and ultimately very funny. This is a writer who can hold the ultimate cognitive dissonance in her head, whereby everything is utterly meaningful and everything is utterly meaningless – the book’s title reflects this and so do many of the poems.
In the opening poem of the collection, ‘Ars Poetica’ she introduces herself:
my name is Annelyse. I have
chrysalized myself in the liberal arts
and now emerge, grotesque
insect, able to do nothing
but talk about everything.
Gelman’s style is playful without being cloying, funny without being shallow, fast-paced without being manic. The balance she achieves in these poems is breathtaking – a tightrope walk between the ridiculous and the sublime. She has a way of following threads of thought and (what appears to be) free-association through labyrinthine meanders into deep meaning, sharp emotional hits to the heart. It is clear how crafted, how considered, these poems are – the apparent randomness is obviously not at all random. Gelman has a way of injecting such levity, lightness of touch and energy into these poems whereby the reader experiences some of the poems as a spontaneous, direct rant. That Gelman can hide her effort and craft is a testament to her talent, such direct emotional connection in poetry is rare.
The voice in the poems is declarative: ‘Life is possible because we fall in its direction/ and/or because we keep our distance'; and intimate: ‘The migraine surges at fake noon/ and I holler turn the sun off. God, it’s bright in here. / Everything I see is contaminated with light’. There is a sense that as the reader you are being drawn into deep intimacy, you are privy to the poet’s best anecdotes, biggest hurts, most complex existential quandaries, her ‘factory/ of regrets and … stupid objects’. However, it’s not heavy, it has the emotional effect of sharing a load, rather than being burdened with one. Gelman’s poems say Here am I, in all my messy glory, and I really SEE you, in yours. She says in ‘Selfie':
When I give advice to others
I’m really talking to me. Yes, by all means
abuse the medium. The medium’s been very
very naughty. Even its safe word
makes me feel dangerous.
The figures in the collection are surprising and unusual, Gelman has a way of almost banging things together in metaphor so that at first they might seem abrasive or unlikely but then with time and within the explorations of thought in the rest of the poem, suddenly they seem apt, perfect:
you are my favourite song, all clattering
cages, shattering bulbs, dead skin cells
grind-dancing dead skin cells
like tinder on kindling, keeping me warm.
There is a tendency in post-post-post-everything contemporary poetry for writers to be afraid of declaring anything, to fully inhabit and reveal their emotional terrain. This collection is full of big (in scope) words which might make lesser writers nervous: love, anger, life, fire, people, sex, death…and the poet has something searing and original to say about them all. Gelman is not afraid to declare, to assert. She throws down emotional experience with a direct, almost off-hand style backed by an intelligent self-knowing, a crisp intellect and a clear eye for beauty. The writing is never didactic though. It never wags a finger, never judges or insinuates wisdom. All of the large concepts are grounded by tangible imagery from the world around us. It’s poetry of the world, the emotions, the senses with plenty to excite the mind also.
To end with another quotation from the opening poem, ‘Ars Poetica’ Gelman breathlessly throws down her own creative manifesto and invitation to the reader to be brave:
…I’m pretty sure
everything is a rough draft
but I’ve also been told I have
commitment issues but I’ve also
been told not to stare at the sun
and thought fuck it, why stare at anything
that doesn’t blind you?
Why indeed? These poems – on top of their wonderful dark and playful humour – ask (or perhaps demand) the reader join her in really ‘going there’, going to those tricky, ambivalent, painful, funny places that make us human and give our lives meaning. This book both made me laugh and made me feel less alone in the world – it’s rare for a collection of poetry to achieve both, and so well.
Helen Lehndorf 

              Why stare at anything that doesn’t blind you? It is a question that made my eyes ache, a question that I could not brush aside for lack of an answer. It is a question that, ironically, made me blink as if staring into a bright light even as I sat at a dimly lit desk reading the line in Annelyse Gelman’s Ars Poetica, the first of more than 40 poems in her collection Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone.
             Gelman’s book is full of questions – some posed by the poet directly, others planted by a provocative image or compelling line and left to linger in the minds of her audience. Rather than strive to find an answer, however, Gelman invites us to be a part of the poetic process, to be active players in a game where we may not know how high the stakes are until we find ourselves drawn in by a particular image that we’ve witnessed in our own lives. Gelman’s dedication reads “For you.” This is perhaps the best indicator of how personal poetry should be for an audience as well as a poet.
             In the magnetizing, turbulent world Gelman creates through her poetry, metaphors operate with an inner logic that runs beneath the seemingly strange combination of objects and ideas, actions and consequences. A woman buys her lover an aluminum abacus to count evil thoughts. Another slices open her thumb with an unnerving deliberation as she contemplates death while cutting a melon. A man considers his own infidelity while toasting the bride at a wedding reception in outer space. As a reader, I found myself obligated to believe in Gelman’s sometimes surprising choices of metaphor if only because the images she creates through these unlikely partnerships are too beautiful to turn away from.
             Gelman’s poems, however, are not a mere compilation of poignant characters confined to a separate world distinct from the rest of us. Just as many of her metaphors broaden the range of creative images I was accustomed to, so too did the level of self-awareness in many of her pieces led me to reconsider the role of the poet in her own work, which furthermore called me to reevaluate my preconceived notions of what poetry ought to do for both reader and writer. Gelman’s authoritative voice as the poet entered her work on occasion to offer her own humorous critique of the writing process.  In “<3 a="" about="" absolute="" all="" already="" and="" as="" attitude="" authority="" been="" better="" but="" cheese="" choice="" conceding="" cookie="" cookies.="" demands="" doubt="" dough="" every="" expresses="" for="" gelman="" have="" heart="" her="" here="" human="" i="" images="" in="" indicator="" it="" joke="" laments="" late="" later="" made="" maybe="" meaning="" metaphor="" monogamy="" not="" now="" of="" on="" own="" p="" poem.="" poem="" poet="" progression="" question="" readers="" regretting="" s="" self-deprecating="" she="" somewhere.="" string="" take="" that="" the="" these="" this="" to="" tongue-in-cheek="" too="" truth="" ve="" with="" work="" would="">             There are countless other aspects of Gelman’s collection that deserve to be recognized for their contribution to making this book an enjoyable read, including Gelman’s masterful manipulation of words to subvert her audience’s expectations. She begins her poem “Vows,” with the line “In space, no one can hear you toast the bride,” cleverly employing onto a common phrase before diverting its course to construct a striking new image. Similarly, in “Class of Whatever,” she writes “I made my bonfire. I slept in it.” By evoking familiar sayings, Gelman reminds her readers of their prior knowledge they bring with them to each poem they read; by turning these phrases on their head, she broadens audience understanding of what each word contributes to the image it evokes and the impression it leaves. Just as many of her images persisted long after I first read them, so too did the surprising yet graceful twists and turns of Gelman’s diction work their way into my mind and lend themselves to memorization.
            In addition to the innovative ways in which Gelman challenges readers to reconsider the genre, her work never loses sight of poetry as foremost an experience of the senses. “The Electrician,” one of my favorite pieces from the collection, she captures a tragic scene in just 12 lines. A man’s body is found floating on a lake, both of his legs broken, a soaked and decaying manual for time travel in his pocket. The last two stanzas read:

Ink dissolves
in water, starfish swim themselves apart to grasp
a greater bamboozlement; we careen gently
toward the present tense until it’s ominous
when you don’t say I love you. Matisse
paints goldfish, but he’s really painting
the light. I never get tired of light.
             Without directly characterizing her speaker’s sense of grief and shock, Gelman manages to leave an irremediable ache in the chest of this reader. Though I cannot say what led to this one man’s death, nor where he had intended to go with his time-traveling contraption, nor how the speaker must feel, I feel deeply tied to this poem through the light – how it falls onto the surface of the lake, illuminating the body, distinguishing between water and ink. And though it is more difficult to gauge the writer’s self-awareness and the broader audience’s anticipated reaction, though the tension between poet and work remains unresolved, it produces something beautiful that, like the light, does not leave me tired, even if it may cause my eyes to hurt just a bit more. But it is an ache worth experiencing. It is an image worth staring at, even if it may blind you. - LUISA BANCHOFF

The poetry of the disenfranchised is not an uncommon subject: Every day we are inundated with words by people who speak from ignored lands. There is a clichéd concept of writing that I hate: That you must write from a place of great sadness or grief in order for it to be good, accessible, and available to people. I think that’s reductionist; surely many great things have been written about the process of mourning, but what of joy? I’m thinking here of Frank O’Hara, “But what of joy, that comes in darkness embossed by silvery images.” Or perhaps, “We shall have everything we want and there will be no more dying.” There is no disputing the fact that we live in a world full of treachery. But what about the poetry of people who dare to love and desire despite all of the grievous occasions in the world? And even greater still, the poetry that explores the ways in which these two contrasting emotions touch upon each other? It is my great belief that joy and sadness are one in the same, that you can’t have one without the other. Or perhaps exploring that concept even further: one begets the other or at least enhances the other.
“I studied physiology because acid made me fascinated / with what could kill me.” — Annelyse Gelman, "Exploded View"
Such as the case in Gelman’s Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone. The poet’s understanding of the complexities of emotion, and not the oversimplification of them, appears to be the driving force in the script. Isn’t it complexity that is the counter to simplicity? Through seams of physiology, science, the dysphoria of the body, Gelman’s understanding of the intuition of human emotions shine through. In the inundation of the discounted literary world, it is harder and harder to come by. Perhaps this is controversial statement, and I’m not exempt from the snobbery of believing that contemporary poetry lacks the complexity of canonical literature, but I truly feel that this is a conversation that can be enhanced by tradition and individual talent. One area in which the poet excels in this manuscript is in the form of the epistolary poem. She utilizes the letter form in order to create direct addresses to her subjects, which implicates the reader in reading them. What better way to create a crime? And maybe a more comprehensive conversation to talk about the poem as chalk line, as an avenue for recording what once was.
Many, many great writers have done an exceptionally well. But Write Bloody Press is well known for publishing slam poetry, which is sometimes at odds with what we think of when we think of traditional page poetry. I would be remiss not to talk about the form here. The poet has done such an excellent job of distinguishing each poem from the other utilizing form, which has the added vantage of allowing the reader to have an experience of something. Without the performativity of spoken word poetry, the poet has to rely on traditional and skewed ideas of the way that the poem presents on the page—the fragmentation of the line, the use of white and negative space, punctuation, pauses, breath, and meter. Along with the epistolary form, the poet does an exceptional job of using sequenced poetry to illustrate the fragmentation that comes with the fracturing of joy and grief. 
In the poem “Six Reconstructive Dreams,” Gelman skillfully plays with the sequencing of narrative, along with the sequencing of the body, in order to demonstrate the ways in which fragmentation informs conversation about personal trauma. “You are thinking lungs / Do not have eyes, but / When a child is born / Her lungs are closed / Before she breathes / For the first time / And spends the rest / Of her life blinking.” Notice hear how the fragmentation of the lines follows the natural syncopated breath, a common tool for performance artists. The line breaks and the use of white space enact the experience of not only breathing, but living as a new thing in the world. - July Westhale

Encountering a book as self-aware and honest as Annelyse Gelman’s Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone is a refreshing reminder we are strangers in a welcoming community of fellow strangers. There is a kind of maelstrom and chaos swirling around us all the time in absolute facts and in our own comforting neuroses.
I’ve been told the Earth is falling into the sun.
I’ve been told I’m a quick learner.
I’ve never stopped anything from becoming ash.
The last three lines in Gelman’s "Ars Poetica” illuminate the core of the book and essence of a poet’s heart—essentially we’re all a little doomed but not alone, we hope. It is a little paradoxical, tragically happy and happily tragic, but it is a universality that connects us when we are feeling alone, wanting to be alone, but needing to be reminded that after this feeling passes, we are not alone. Contained in Gelman’s  collage of beautiful information, we are allowed to peek over the privacy fence of isolation to see that we are in this together.
            Life is possible because we fall in its direction
and/or because we keep our distance.
We are falling. We have no control. It is not an idea we feel comfortable inhabiting all the time, but Gelman guides us in “Metaphor” as we fall, uncontrolled, through a galaxy larger than ourselves.
Our applause reminds us of our nakedness.        
That was magical, we say, to dispel the magic.
Without magic or mystery, we would not exist, but at the same time it is dangerous to acknowledge. In general, admitting an unknown exists is unsettling. We acknowledge the dual, existential crisis as magic, as if to say “I made it magical. I have given this the power to harness that kind of power for myself.” It is a kind of reconciliation we make with ourselves to stay grounded. It takes guts; it takes a big heart; and most of all, it takes an open mind to accept the truth of Gelman’s metaphor. Whether or not we decide to applaud or call this life magical, it was the mystery and magic of life before our own lives that allowed us to do such a thing.
Magic reappears in a more specific and dire form of mortality later on in the poem “Fabulist.”
                        Before the diagnosis
            I told my mother I believed in magic. I didn’t.
I believed it was what she needed to hear.
How can we believe in magic when illness and death will invariably consume everything? With that on the table, how are we supposed to understand anyone or be understood by anyone? Gelman repeatedly acknowledges her fear of being misunderstood and suffers from being lonely, which serves her poetry well. The availability of instability in a world where everything can be accessed instantly will alienate the best of us. We need poets like Gelman to constantly remind us of this. In her loneliness and her mother’s fear, she lies to her mother out of the need for truth. This is a redemptive act—we need to give and receive comfort.
Even if Gelman doesn’t believe in magic, there is enough self-awareness and demonstration of fragility in this book to let the readers decide if we want to receive a magical comfort from this poem. It is magic to feel connected, for at least a few seconds, before the wrecking ball crumbles the wall, before the alarm clock wakes us up, before we pass into other worlds.
            We have such trouble letting go. Above the keening
branches, a smoldering of clouds. Even heaven
is not perfect. Even heaven aches to hold the Earth.
Heaven doesn’t want to be alone; even paradise is best when shared. The poem “Hurricane” helps us to pass into other worlds, sometimes within this world—new levels of awareness, acceptance, and most importantly empathy for shared loneliness. This book helps us love strangers. It calls to mind Plato’s idea, “Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone fights a hard battle.”
Narrative and surrealism at its finest, it avoids the nonsensical blather encountered in some contemporary surrealism by maintaining its relevance, succeeding in bridging the gap between person and loneliness.  Everyone I Love Is A Stranger To Someone has the poignancy and presence of Dean Young and Mary Ruefle and carries as much of a hard-hitting punch of truth. Gelman took a risk being so transparent with her own life in such an accessible way. These words are magic. They are what we need to hear. - 

I couldn’t remember whether the chambers of the heart
were atria or ventricles. I looked it up. They’re both.
The atrium brings the blood in, gestures to the coat
rack, pours a glass of red wine. Then out, out through
the swollen sodden gills, lub dub, all best to the wife
and kids. Missing you, there’s some muscle I can’t un-
tense. It’s not even a vagina muscle. It’s my heart.
I was thinking the heart’s chambers are made of cells
which are made of chambers, but then I remembered
muscle cells are really more like those rolls of cookie dough
you slice and throw in the oven, all discrete strands, maybe
string cheese would have been a better metaphor but it’s
too late now, I’ve already made it about cookies.

If you don’t like cookies then you can go fuck yourself.
It turns out heart cells aren’t like normal muscle cells.
They’ve only got one nucleus, and they spend all their lives
making sure they keep living. Under duress, their walls
thicken. I’m pretty sure someone grew them in a petri dish
and all the cells began to beat in synchrony, the tiniest
dubstep concert ever. Cardiomyocytes can grow but once
they die you’re totally screwed. I didn’t even want to drop
the name cardiomyocyte. There’s a joke about monogamy in all this
somewhere. I will find it. I’ll tell it to you and you’ll
laugh and I’ll keep tensing up my heart because if I don’t
I’ll die and this love poem will have been for nothing.

[originally published in SWARM]


In the wet dreaming room seventeen and a half boys
masturbate on seventeen and a half make-believe beds,
sleeping hands tied round seventeen and a half blue roses
blooming to the organ-grinder’s song.
In every way, they are their sustained melodic breakdown,
un-adorned emotion cast off outside our atonal
scudding. O let me dream not the logic of boats
but of rooms billowing with brackish wine,
you and me lost at sea, reed-deep in the technical journals.
We are a helpless make-believe presence deteriorating
except in alcohol. Do you want me to take off my human
myself? Sailboat, frail boat—ugly and marvelous body!
There is no such thing as a patternless universe.
There is really no such thing as a birdless place.

[originally published in THE AWL]

for more poems, check out "Melpomene" & other poems at NAILED, "Tipping Point" & "My Letter of Apology Didn't Work" at THE ECONOMY, or visit my blog for unpolished rough drafts.

Annelyse Gelman is a California Arts Scholar, the inaugural poet-in-residence at the University of California at San Diego’s Brain Observatory, and recipient of the 2013 Mary Barnard Academy of American Poets Prize and New Pacific Studio’s 2013 Lavinia Winter Fellowship. Her debut poetry collection, Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone, was released from Write Bloody Publishing in April 2014. Her recent work has appeared, or will soon appear, in Hobart, Atticus Review, Indiana Review, The Economy, MARY, Rufous City Review, and elsewhere. She divides her time between the United States and New Zealand. For more information, please visit