by Franco Cardiello
Print Length: 108 pages
Reviewed by Toni Woodruff
Raw, honest poetry about true love in its various forms
“True love” is ambiguous. In some cases, the phrase is spoken about a person’s connection with another specific someone—a connection they thought they felt before but have only now discovered is different, bigger, from their previous love. At the same time, “true” means honest: a kind of love that doesn’t beautify deep blemishes but one that cuts through the surface, one that bleeds.
Loving Strays is the kind of poetic, true love book that bleeds. It’s about being alone—a stray dog in search of something, somewhere, most of all, someone. Maybe it’s another stray we’ve found, or maybe it’s the other kind. Maybe it exists.
Franco Cardiello is an affecting confessional poet in search of the concepts & realities of honest love, of lust, of real relationships, and of the ways in which they fail. It’s a deeply intimate book—this glimpse into Cardiello’s mind and the contexts of his myriad relationships. You learn a lot about Cardiello in this collection, but you can also learn a lot about yourself. Reflecting while reading this confessional book is a natural response.
Cardiello has a lot of relationships. Many of them feel temporary from the moment they begin. In this case, honest love turns into admitting lust and disconnection. We’re not sure if the woman is feeling the way he is; it is all coming from Cardiello. He doesn’t shy away from the moments he could come across as selfish or judgmental; he may not even recognize them. As readers, we are invited in to how raw feelings can be, especially when it’s about connecting with another person—emotional or physical.
The recurring theme of being and feeling like a stray in the world is among Cardiello’s best. It slips in and out of poems, returning to offer the concept from a new angle, always impacting the trajectory of how we see each moment. The first section, “Rain Dogs,” is my favorite: in which we learn about a younger Cardiello going in and out of temporary places to call home—from juvenile centers to a girl’s front porch. The intimate stories of his life taking shape often provide some of the best reading of the collection, like in “On a Trampoline” and “A Long Line of WASPS.”
The quick, raw poems definitely make for a visceral reading experience, but I can’t love all of them. Some feel rushed in execution, some not reading much like poems, and some judgmental and bordering on over-confident.
Loving Strays is a book I’ll be remembering for a while, a quick, impulsive read with a clearly defined theme and some really affecting love poems.
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