London Grip Poetry Review – Alison Prine


Poetry review – LOSS AND ITS ANTONYM: Charles Rammelkamp admires Alison Prine’s poetry about grief and love


Loss and Its Antonym 
Alison Prine
Headmistress Press, 2024
ISBN: 979-8987763636
106 pages    $15.00

The antonym of loss is … love? From the death of her mother in a car accident when she was four years old, which she survived along with her older sister, to the suicide of her brother, Alison Prine has known loss more intimately than most people, but she’s also found meaning in life. As she writes in “Circling,” one of several poems that consider her brother’s suicide,

            being important and
            being unimportant 
            I have always wanted 

            to live 
            and I do

Many of the poems in Loss and Its Antonym are about recovering the family that was obliterated. ‘I am a landlocked sailor / my boat an agnostic prayer,’ she starts the poem, “Circumstance,” describing the dislocation at the heart of her life. In the poem “Strayed” she notes: ‘you can see my dead mother / in the language of my hands,’ and later, in the third of three poems titled “Family,” she further elaborates:

             There’s a single gesture 
             we have in common. Runs
             right down the bloodline.

             You might not perceive it
             until you see us from a distance—

             How we wave goodbye.

“Mother Never Grew Old” and “Portrait of the Mother I Don’t Remember” bring the point of loss home, along with “To My Brother on the Anniversary of His Suicide” (‘making you feel closer / the longer you are dead.’). In the poem “Close” Prine observes:

            When people say like a sister, they mean
             something unlike a sister, I think 

             because there is nothing like a sister,
             not even a brother….

Later in this poem that honors her older sister, Prine writes that ‘So much of what we lost

             was held in the same hands.

             So much of what we haven’t said
             we don’t need to.

In her family, she goes on later in the poem, ‘it felt / like the world was split, over and over // and all that was left / were sisters.’

To say Alison Prine has experienced grief is an understatement. ‘Grief lifts, almost imperceptibly. / From a boulder to a stone,’ she begins the poem “Yahrzeit,” after the Jewish observance of the anniversary of a loved one’s death; and later she asks: ‘What other animal has learned / to hate itself?’

Divided into four parts. the latter two of Loss and Its Antonym focus on the antonym, the shorthand, more or less, being Prine’s wife but more so the purpose, the raison d’être, that love represents.

Poems in the first two sections – “Lesbian Child” (‘everyone in every building / kept my secret’), “Bomb Drills of Childhood” (‘Lana Baker—who touched me in the bath, / the door tied shut with a jumprope’), and “Coming Out” (‘I knew watching our hound mutt / when he slipped out of the leash— / the joy he had escaping’) among them — address her sexuality as she developed.

But the poem “The Subject Is Not Loss,” in particular, spells out the antonym so beautifully and allusively.

             I read a letter from my father to my mother 
            when he was in the Navy 64 years ago—

            you said I talk like that 
            when I unbutton your shirt. 

            On the shore your face strained 
            by laughter is washed in sun.

           The recognition of our gaze
           is cumulative.

           Every morning I wake 
           to watch dawn unfold over the harbor.

           At night I crave to go back into 
           the conversation our bodies have in sleep.

Note how the recovery of Prine’s own family is implicit in the enduring intimacy with her love, captured in their gestures. It’s driven home in other poems like “What Red Does to Yellow”:

            we have been together for so long 

            we keep waking in the same round hours of night 
            people say we’ve come to look alike 

The final section of Loss and Its Antonym takes the long philosophical view already suggested here, including five poems titled “Letter to Time.” ‘I keep thinking of the sound of your voice,’ she tells Time,

            and your strange devotion,
            moving me further into myself
            but also closer
            to my death.

This is simply matter of fact, nothing grievous about it, but with a sort of wink Prine ruefully finishes this letter,

            We still dance, but it’s different now,
            remember how, long ago, I used to try
            to push you ahead?
            Now you always lead, and I lean in

Loss and Its Antonym, winner of Sappho’s Prize in Poetry, is a sweet testament to love and to the grief that always threatens to overwhelm us, the pendulum swing between evanescence and permanence at the heart of our sense of purpose. For as she notes in the poem, “Hush”:

            Everything worth doing
            is worth being terrified by.