It seems lately that everything is nearing its end.

from “Quantum Theorists in 1926”

Bianca Stone’s fourth full-length collection, What is Otherwise Infinite, combines sharp-witted philosophizing with breathtaking honest reflections of the self as the author navigates the very core of the human condition. Stone divides the collection into four sections, each deepening her investigation into what forms the Self. Her poems center on existentialism, unpacking the ways in which our definition of Self is influenced by Western modes of thinking. Readers will recognize Stone’s predilection for allusion throughout the collection as the author invokes archangels, philosophers, scientific theories, and artists. Each poem moves the reader ever closer to Stone’s pursuit of self-actualization, offering more and more intimate portraits of the author while also urging the reader to consider their own sense of Self more earnestly.

“Why is it, our/exhibition (forgive us our) pleasure, gazing/into enormous paintings of lost battles,/the naked raped townspeople piled on the dying horses/and the indifferent pastures and frescoes of gods,” writes Stone in “Human Nature,” the first poem in the collection. It sits outside the defined sections, acting as a prologue to the metaphysical tone that carries through the rest of the book. The opening lines evoke Mulvey’s theory of the gaze, indicting spectators for the pleasure they take in looking upon memorials of destruction while also acknowledging the speaker’s complicity in the culture of spectatorship. By the end of the poem, though, the speaker shifts to a plea for more concrete human interaction: “I haven’t been touched nearly enough in one lifetime/to be satisfied–and now want you,/across all this dead gauze,/to put your lips/to mine.”

Each section of the collection carries a title that correlates to one part of self-actualization. The first section, Monad, explores the Self in isolation. “Marcus Aurelius,” which appears at the outset of the section, culminates in the speaker’s promise “that I will start tomorrow/the essential dismantling/of how I live.” Recalling the link between Pythogoras’ monad and divinity, the speaker continually turns their attention to religious contexts, making space for both Jesus and God to question their respective functions within the universe as a whole. “God Searches for God,” concludes with the speaker, presumably God, declaring that “It is said this planet came to be/when I was pulled apart.” This spiritual exploration is juxtaposed with intense self realization, as in “Alcohol,” where the speaker addresses alcohol directly, ultimately rebuffing alcohol’s hold on the speaker with the realization, “you widow me every time.”

Dyad, the second section, expands the speaker’s sense of Self to include a romantic partner. The poems look at the condition of love and demand that the “you” so often invoked does not idealize a relationship with the speaker. Triad continues the outward expansion of the Self, adding a child to the author’s focus. This section is, for me, the most searing and engaging. “Your three-year-old has found you/sitting in the kitchen,” the section opens in “Tragic Nature,” a poem that reconfigures the parent-child relationship as the young girl tries to care for her mother by presenting a toy syringe filled with lemonade as the mother sits on the floor. “It is hard for mothers to be like this./It is hard for mothers to be sick/like this,” the speaker admits midway through the poem. The final section, Tetrad, offers more complex questions of the Self that stretch from subatomic particles to the unknowable infinite. In the penultimate poem of the section, the speaker considers the existential crisis that would accompany naming that unknowable force that binds her to the world.

Bianca Stone’s What is Otherwise Infinite is both dense and gripping. The poet aptly balances millennia of Western thinking with the formation of the individual Self. These are poems that do not lend themselves to passive reading, but rather demand deep internal reflection and renewed engagement with the most basic, unanswerable questions of human existence.

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