Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Standard Loneliness Package by Michael J. Seidlinger. (Broken River Books)
A professor I had said novels were the easiest things to write, followed by short stories, and then poetry. He was saying that regardless of the form you’re writing in you’re still trying to convey an idea to the reader. With novels, you have hundreds of pages and thousands of words to successfully communicate your intention to the audience. With a poem, you have mere pages and a handful of words.
Michael J. Seidlinger, known for novels, has jumped to a new form with Standard Loneliness Package, a collection of poems. The book is full of poems written to people that are no longer in his life, giving us a voyeuristic view of Seidlinger. In “To Brandon,” Seidlinger talks about how he’s “written three books about what happened between us,” but none of them are published. Yet this poem is in this collection telling the reader everything we need to know. To expand on any of the poems would be a disservice to the intimate feeling he’s able to cultivate in this collection. The details of the full stories wouldn’t make sense for an outside observer, but through this poetry Seidlinger has given us a direct line to the emotions involved in dead relationships.
As I read through these moments of his previous relationships, a composite began to form for who Seidlinger is as a person. Not only is this collection a goodbye to his past, but it’s also an insider’s profile of someone simultaneously seeking out and evading loneliness. The book in and of itself is almost a contradiction as Seidlinger juxtaposes all these intimate relationships with how lonely everyone seems to be. This shows the complexity of relationships that have run their course and gives some perspective on moving forward, albeit a one-sided one. Basically, he has illustrated that a sense of being alone can be found in every facet of life.
Seidlinger has cut all the nonsense away and looks at the core of each relationship. You can feel the heart in this collection and can’t help but feel moved to look at our own past of broken connections.
Going beyond looking at Seidlinger as the subject, he is also pointing to the idea that even in the middle of people and movement we can still inhabit a place of being alone. At the end of the book, Seidlinger further demonstrates the universality of loneliness with an essay. This piece focuses on when Seidlinger took a one-man road trip across the country. Since he was driving, he couldn’t tune out the silence with social media and was inadvertently forced to stare out the window and confront the crux that social media has become. As someone who spends a lot of time by himself these days, I can relate to the idea that a social media presence should feel more like I’m connected to the world, but it doesn’t. This is a fabricated world many of us inhabit that is filled with ads and algorithms and dopamine hits. We’re there because it feels good, but it’s not real life. Seidlinger is using both real relationships and connections on the internet to showcase a loneliness package.
The poetry in this collection is short and to the point. There are moments when I would have wanted more information, but the full story isn’t what is intriguing—and often would be beside the point. Some of the poems are to people who don’t even have names, but we’re able to make an impression on Seidlinger’s life in some small and important way. He has cut all the nonsense away and looks at the core of each relationship. You can feel the heart in this collection and can’t help but feel moved to look at our own past of broken connections.