There are a number of factors working against Lynn Crosbie’s Liar from the very beginning. The love poem is dead because sentimentality is dead. The scraps of romantic language have been recycled into TV shows and Hallmark cards and now resemble only pulpy shadows of their former selves. People do not trust the love poem: it’s slippery and insincere and designed to sell roses and chocolates. Trying to get a love poem taken sincerely is an uphill battle against clichés and over-emotion but Crosbie takes the genre in her fists and shapes it into a manageable, and painfully recognizable form, drawing heavily from the small crisp details of intertwined lives cast apart.
Written in a series of poems separated only by white space, Liar tears at the heart of a messy break-up. Blatantly autobiographical, the work tramples through the many landscapes of emotion: there is anger of being cheated on, the wounds of being left, the self reliance and strength that emerges, and, always, the underlying current of loss. It would have been easy to write a book bemoaning the lost love, crying victim at every turn: instead Liar approaches the subject with searing honesty, unflappable in her ability to face the hardest scenes and voice the painfully frustrating admissions.
Told in two and one line chunks, the book moves steadily through its narratives in bursts of stark and resounding images. The work does not ignore its heritage in the love poem: Crosbie is constantly employing conceits, grand Donne-ian devices, images sets that haunt in large chunks throughout Liar: the old black bureau that used to house his old clothes resurfaces constantly as absent furniture and reminder; the constant shifting of homes underlines the instability of the relationship, consistently foreshadowing the crumbling of supportive and insulating walls. The short stanzas punctuate these images, rippling the poem quickly onward, avoiding the overtly abstract language that haunts so many personal writing: Liar is then a gripping and pointed letter that pops and hums like a familiar LP, full of warmth and the hurt of the obsolete.
The work’s biggest strength is its specificity. Crosbie avoids trying to universalize the relationship, making it a marker for any couple ever split apart: instead, she identifies in detailed lines the process of a long break up and residual passion. It is not everyone’s break-up; it is hers alone. While this falls dangerously close to solipsism, because of the strict attention to the detail, the audience then identifies with very strongly with the larger process of breaking apart, able to find his/herself in that same cataloguing and explanation of detail that knots Liar together.
And, in the end, nothing is resolved. The conclusion is just as messy as the beginning, but thankfully this time strung with the strength and resolve of an imaginable future. While Liar proves to be oddly therapeutic and relatable its powerful to see that as exquisite as being in love is, falling away from it proves just as strikingly gorgeous.