Released in 2020, actress Lili Reinhart’s debut poetry collection Swimming Lessons forces readers to experience the ebbs and flows of each poem as they arise.
Unlike most poetry collections, the book doesn’t have a table of contents, the sections don’t have a discernible theme, and few of the poems are titled.
Sectioning poetry books signals to readers the theme or feeling of each chunk. Similarly, the titles of poems summarize their tone and the reading experience.
Swimming Lessons, by contrast, throws readers into the deep end.
The absence of titles makes each poem less distinct in the reader’s mind. It becomes easier to reread a poem but experience it like you’re reading it for the first time. The often-ambiguous beginnings of Reinhart’s poems can therefore elicit different reactions from the same reader on different days.
One of the poems I dog-eared in my copy of Swimming Lessons opens with the line “an ordinary day / an ordinary moment / driving home from work.”
I don’t remember why I marked this poem. If I had to guess, I’d say the proceeding image of “a yellow setting sky / and the windows / cracked open” resonated with me for its simple beauty—I will always picture my own walk home, watching the sunset.
Reading this poem for the first time under a tree in City Park, I enjoyed how present and mindful the poem’s drawn-out description of scenery is. Finding the poem again on an anxious, midterm season day, I wondered why the poem’s exposition is so long, and I tensely waited for its peace to be shattered.
I like the collection very much. Studying English has affected my literary tastes outside the classroom, and I find it more difficult to ignore the faults or flatness in so many of the novels and poetry collections I pick up at Indigo.
Reinhart’s writing is characteristic of a new generation of poets, who appear to be less interested in adhering to strict form or patterns of rhyme, and more so concerned with conveying vivid feelings through regular language.
Thankfully, though, Reinhart largely accomplishes this casualness without sacrificing the air of poetic reflection missing from so much of today’s young adult literature.
Limiting the distinguishability of her poems facilitates their blending together in readers’ minds. Rather than publishing a series of poems, Reinhart has shared an era of her life, which she invites readers to sit in on and experience for themselves.
Reinhart’s poems wash over readers just as the moments that inspired them did to her. Swimming Lessons at times read like gently lapping waters warmed by romance and affection, and at others, like waves whipped up onto you by the changing tides in your relationship, inviting you to dive in.
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