Fani Papageorgiou’s newest collection of poems, Not So Ill with You and Me, is composed of four long, fragmentary poems. The book takes its title from the last sentence of George Eliot’s Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, a sentence that describes Dorothea Brooke’s life as it transitioned from greater extroversion and activity to greater self-reflection, and, perhaps paradoxically, a deeper involvement in the domestic sphere, including a particular focus on her new husband’s wants and needs. Papageorgiou invokes this final moment of Middlemarch to argue with it, in preference for autonomy; if Not So Ill with You and Me had a subtitle, it might read “A Study of a Life on the Move.” The poems immerse us in searching, love and loss, and unresolved mystery, as seen in some of the book’s very first lines, from “Travels Without You:”
The lagoon is dissected by your thoughts
like a railroad bridge
as you walk at dusk
it feels exactly like madness.
With these spare, allusive poems, Papageorgiou, at her best, engages her audience with fresh and insightful verse in which speakers often say unexpected things, and characters find themselves in unexpected places, both literal and figurative. Not So Ill works at the intersection of an expository concern with data and atmospheric (auto)biographical specifics and a spectral imagery, bringing to mind Linda Gregerson or Larry Levis, but with the brevity of line characteristic of Rae Armantrout. The poems, throughout the collection, tend to cycle quickly from historical or scientific fact, to lyrical imagery, to (meditative or revelatory) declarative statement, to detail, as in the collection’s penultimate poem, “Seychelles, ex-Bahamas”:
Any dress looks good
in a heap on the floor.
Virgil tells us that
to prevent the men leaving,
the women set fire to the ships.
Mount Kilimanjaro is in tropical Africa
but it has snow all year round.
Focus on one thing that turns you on.
If you add sails to stone towers,
they become windmills.
Upon hurling yourself into the air
you instantly realized
that everything in your life
you thought was unfixable
except for having just jumped.