Review by Jason Carney
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s sixth book, The Year of No Mistakes, is a book of transitions. Movement is a strong thread throughout the most sophisticated offering this poet has made to date. Her voice is authentic and precise. The whole of the text seems as if not only the poems are in transition, but the poet as well, as if the narrator is searching for wholeness by leaving parts of herself behind.
The easiest transitional element to spot is the physical location of the poems. The reader is constantly moving page to page—Chicago, Brooklyn, Austin, Queens, and various cities in between. This movement seems natural and fluid, as if the book is piecing together the signs of her life, with the most important of these examinations being the relationships the narrator has developed and outgrown. The Year of No Mistakes is a book of remembrances and reflections, presented in a tangible and visceral manner, relevant to each of our lives. A clear example of this is the poem “The Bowery.”
We danced like ball bearings.
We laughed like ripped newspapers.
We smoked like backwards rain clouds.
We kissed like slammed doors.
Whether the relationship is with a lover, friends, internal, or with her vision of a higher power, the conversation surrounding its flaws and beauty is honest and open to both blame and responsibility, while seeking resolution. A rare quality of wholeness is presented in these examinations, juxtaposed against the movement of the poems and the characters creating a vital text that is both healing to the narrator and the reader; this signifies the maturity of this poet. Offerings such as “West Philly,” “These United States,” and “33 and 1/3” really define the bittersweet undertones of gain through loss. The most notable example is the poem “My Tiny God.”
My Tiny God knows I like established paths, following
dotted lines to my destination. My Tiny God thinks
no one learns that way, turn off the headlights
when we’re still racing down a road.
Not only is the narrator real and believable, the characters of the book are vivid and alive, almost as if the reader knows them. Aptowicz uses very little physical description at times when presenting these characters, however the emotional connections between the narrator and the characters give the reader access into the intimacy of their relationships. She gives the reader an especially wonderful moment in the poem “The Poet’s Wedding in New Orleans.”
And when they kiss, we clap our palms to our chest and scream.
They run down the aisle, hand-in-hand, burst into the sunlight.
They don’t stop, they keep running, laughing, eyes locked forward
to that bright future. Not even the wind tries to stop them.
This book is full of such wonderful moments, awkward realizations that lead to loss and grieving, and resolutions of self spurned on by movement. The noted poet Mark Strand wrote in the poem “The Continuous Life,” “I move to keep things whole.” The Year of No Mistakes exemplifies Strand’s sentiments. This book is a healing experience for the reader, proving that Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is at the height of her poetic powers.
Jason Carney is a poet and writer from Dallas, Texas.