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Review: Quarantine :: Contagion, by Brian Henry

A collection that is both haunting and haunted, this must be read as a whole. Obsessions with both our sexuality and mortality invade so much of literature that the subject matter of Quarantine::Contagion, the narrator dying of the plague, looking back at his life is almost unremarkable in itself. What makes the collection noteworthy is its structure: the use of the Contagion section as a kind of inverse of the first section and the unorthodox use of grammatical sense throughout the book. Where in places the poetry is clever and beautiful, where it explores the limits of conscious human emotion-pleasure, agony and everything in between-the collection is a hugely rewarding read. On occasion, Henry gets it exactly, strikes the nail squarely with the hammer: ...he was not beautiful too burnt and too thin / he was all angle and no curve. Yes. However, I quickly found the Contagion section wearing; its concept could have been perfect but I felt the execution was lacking, there was too much of the same, undermining Quarantine. At points. Henry shows us in spectacularly stark and forceful ways the simultaneous unity and separateness, the strength and weakness of the human condition, but eventually the collection becomes too repetitive and self-consciously subversive to continue to reach out to its audience.