Alicia Cook's, Sorry I Haven't Texted You Back, Meaningfully Exposes Emotional Subtext
Alicia Cook's, Sorry I Haven't Texted You Back, showcases how everything is not always as it seems.
Does anyone remember in high school English when you read a book, and you had to have countless conversations about how a river was not just a river but a physical representation of a character's grief, and you thought that your teacher was reading too much into it? Alicia Cook capitalized on this idea for her third poetry collection, Sorry I Haven't Texted You Back.
Alicia Cook is a poet, essayist, and activist native to New Jersey, best known for her 2016 poetry collection, Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately, and for spreading awareness about the effects of drug addiction. Written between July 2018 and February 2020, Sorry I Haven't Texted You Back was released amid the COVID-19 pandemic's peak in October 2020.
At the beginning of its release, when everyone was dealing with the struggles of the pandemic, we were better at asking each other if we were okay. We didn't need a reminder because the looming nature of the pandemic brought it all to the forefront. Now that there's some sense of normalcy, Sorry I Haven't Texted You Back, even as a title without having read the book, serves as the push everyone needs to check up on one another.
Instead of long prose like those from school, Cook dissects the meaning behind moments of life in her poetry. Sorry I Haven't Texted You Back follows the structure of a mixtape with a Side A and Side B. Side A consists of ninety-two poems titled as tracks covering subjects from mental health, death, trauma, sex, love, drugs and alcohol, suicide, and violence.
Despite the broad themes, each poem distinctly describes a moment or thought of life. She asks uncommon but essential questions like why there are lines at funeral homes, but graveyards are always empty. Some poems, such as Track Twenty One, have a story that ends with a line that changes the context of what you just read.
Side B consists of edited, scribbled, and blacked-out versions of the poems in Side A, creating poetry within poetry. They're simple and short, but each word is deliberately chosen and composed in a way that makes it incredibly impactful and emotional. Side B adds even more subtext to poetry that was already oozing it.
With the layers of meaning for each poem, each word had to be precisely chosen. Every word, rhyme, structure, and even display of the poem had to be intricately thought out. To add yet another layer to her writing, Cook played into her mixtape book structure by pairing each poem with a song that complements its subject matter.
Every one of these poems is meant to embody the implied "but" that goes after the book's title.
Sorry, I haven't texted you back, BUT I'm grieving.
Sorry I haven't texted you back, BUT I barely have the energy to cry, let alone fake a smile.
Sorry, I haven't texted you back, BUT I can't trust that the love I'm experiencing will last.
Cook does not focus on explicitly stating these but's; instead; she writes the words that lie hidden behind the implied. She creates depth of meaning without the use of complicated vocabulary or confusing structure.
I felt the emotion behind her words, tearing up multiple times and taking breaks to compose myself long enough to keep reading. I'm confident it would take numerous reads and listens to the official playlist to strip every ounce of meaning and intention behind this book. And that would be time well spent.