I finished reading Tory Dent’s HIV, Mon Amour last night. The book is Dent’s second collection and details her personal experience living with AIDS. She died of the disease in December of 2005.
The book itself is dense, dense, dense—unbearably long lines and huge, brick-like stanzas assault the reader both visually and verbally with text. Many of the poems are long and—even in this format—stretch over several pages. It’s a suitable form for her voice, which, I think, does seek to assault the reader to some extent, perhaps a mimickry of the way HIV has assaulted not only bodies, but cultures, and our American culture in particular. It’s a difficult book to read, both because the text is so dense it almost appears as prose paragraphs and partly because Dent is unrelenting. The cataloguing of nearly everything and anything she can think of seems almost an effort to encase the world in this book—the world she knows she is slowly losing. Is this an effort against oblivion, of containing the world before it’s lost?
The book’s title makes reference to one of the most beautiful films I ever watched as an undergraduate, Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour. It’s a haunting film about a French woman and Japanese man coming to terms with the effect of war and the atom bomb on relationships. The two leads meet in Hiroshima after the war. The woman, an actress, is there to make a film about peace and somehow feels a deep experiential connection to the bombing. As they walk around the city or make love, they discuss war and peace and each other. It’s a fascinating film.
Dent’s book, in many ways, echoes the film. The figure of a dead lover weighs heavily in many of the poems through direct address—some of these poems are extended conversations with the dead. Dent’s catalog extends beyond her disease and into the living world, encapsulating extensively some history of painting as well as constant self-conscious references to film history.
I can’t say that I enjoyed the book, but I learned a lot from reading it. Its density was a real challenge for me, and much of Dent’s language is abstract and not steeped in imagery, which also challenges me. But it’s an interesting book, different and risky in ways that I admire and appreciate.