On Suitor by Joshua Rivkin

In the first of two envois that appear in Joshua Rivkin’s Suitor, a speaker defines the word that gives the collection its title:

Suitor, from the Latin secutor,
to follow. I can’t
catch them, or let them go—

In addition to providing a working definition for the term as it will be used throughout the book, these lines establish the underlying tensions that inform the larger project. Here we see characters struggling against each other: the speaker against his mother’s boyfriends, his father, his own lovers. We see the push and pull of past against present in the speaker’s memory against that of his siblings or within the complicated legacy of Fritz Haber, the scientist responsible for world-changing artificial fertilizers as well as the weaponization of chlorine gas. Perhaps most of all though, we see the tension between what language can and cannot do. How it can lapidify or leave behind the things that it describes even as it tries to give them life:

    . . . The love poem risks
abandonment, of speaking too soon.
Or too late . . .
This is no love poem.

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