“Left-Handed: Poems” by Jonathan Galassi— Love, Passion, Loss and Transformation

left handed
Galassi, Jonathan. “Left-Handed: Poems”. Knopf, 2013.

Love, Passion, Loss and Transformation

Amos Lassen

As the unnamed narrator tells the story which is a one-way dialogue with another character who is elusive. Here is a poetic novella which overwhelms as we are pulled into it. Poems take us to the streets on New York City, to a house “out in the country”, to the island of Naxos and to the Forum in Rome. They as modern and contemporary yet remind us of classical poetry in style. Galassi touches on romance, love and seduction. I

The genesis of this collection of poems seems (to me, at least) is when the poet discovered love with another man (literary agent Bill Clegg) although this is covert in the text. He left his wife and children for Clegg. He was infatuated with Clegg and we totally sense that here. He thinks about their relationship and puts those thoughts into his poems. He also seems to have lost himself in Clegg along with his lack of self-worth. These poems will last. The poems are highly personal and metaphorically perfect.

Galassi fell in love with Clegg who is a bit older than the poet. This is when he learned that he is gay. He was married for some 36 years and when he was divorced from his wife, he began to write these poems which are filled with raw emotion. Galassi’s poems are divided into three sections, “A Clean Slate” (before), “The Crossing” (during) and “I Can Sleep Later” (after).

In “A Clean Slate” morality and a lack of fulfillment are the themes. Galassi is the president of a major publishing house and Clegg is a literary agent. He tells us here that his own internalized homophobia is what kept from entering into and being a part of a same-sex relationship when he was young. In many of the poems in this section, the poet describes what caused his marriage to end and how he found a truer life with a man. Falling in love with a younger man forced him that he is indeed gay.

I left the lost
life all of it was ours is ours
was ours is ours was”.

The Crossing” the poems are addressed to Jude although the poem “Pretzels” is without a doubt for his wife. He says that his wife had twisted herself up like a pretzel as she tried to tolerate something that she hated in him. In this section he takes a walk down Seventh Avenue with Doug and Frank from Central Park West to Greenwich Village and he tells us of the people and the landmarks that he sees. Here is where he crosses from heterosexual to homosexual (I hate that word).

I Can Sleep Later” is about another relationship ending but this time it is with Jude (who we now know as Clegg). Jude is replaced with Tom and another love story takes wing.

Left Handed” is a collection about obsession and we feel the pain and anguish of two failed relationships and the embrace of a different sexuality. It is the gorgeous language that makes this collection of poems so beautiful but we must also concede that gorgeous language is only that way when there is something to write about. We do learn here that sometimes in order to live an authentic life, radical changes are necessary.