Love Undefined

by Jonathan Katz


The reader of Love Undefined goes on an adventure both intense and familiar – the constant, passionate, desperate search for “a universe aflow with pleasure.” The body is a source of power, fulfillment and “every ironic context of age and death and treason.” The objects of affection and desire include attractions, obsessions, companions and possible saviors. The perspective of some poems is youthful; others are informed by age and experience. Stories help us learn how to relate to a mysterious force like love – “this tragic and merry-go-round world is yours to make holy.” This book of poems is good for that.

(First published in The Midwest Quarterly)

As individual flowers the bluets are so inconspicuous
that few people notice them. But they colonize,
and vast patches of their white or pale lilac blossoms
are like frost on the grass in upland meadows.
They please the countryman, who may call them
quaker ladies or innocence, though the individual
flower is only half an inch across its four small petals,
at the center of which is a golden eye.

This he reads in the spring in the New York Times
and wherever he goes thereafter he feels for
the golden eye watching him and
he is uneasily warm even in the gray rain,
even in the cloudy dusk, because he is afraid
of opening too soon or not at all
and everything perennial he knows depends on patience.

When they do meet, the tuber in his chest
knocks and thrashes about like a wild thing
in its hunger and she seems so unaware
and ordinary that a thousand flame-white doves
fly from his fingertips to their home
in the sun that beats down on them and she hardly
seems to notice, has merely smiled at him.

Later, picking any day like a petal,
thinking how to measure things that pass
and of their power, he wonders to himself
about her darkness and what,
etiolated and throbbing as it must have been,
drew her, like a stream from a high mountain place,
down to him.


Love surges and searches for explanation and definition throughout Jonathan Katz’s Love Undefined. Again and again these poems achieve moments of recognition of the undefinable feeling of passion and of love. The poems bear close reading and re-reading. They are often complex puzzles laced with spurts of joy and rhythm. I learned things I didn’t know that I needed to know like the size of bluet petals, the night life of barrier reefs, the journeys of the Mona Lisa. I have never enjoyed more the companionship of a dictionary and encyclopedia than while navigating Jonathan’s poem, “Nazar”. And though these poems are truly enjoyable to read they are webbed with moral questions, challenges to orthodoxy, and dares as in his poem “Courage,” where we are challenged to embrace passion and “flirt with the option to ruin our own life”. Big questions, joyful poems.

–Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts

Jonathan Katz’s love poems are alive with an appetite to continue the process of discovery that is at the very root of intimacy. He is working in a mode that calls to mind Neruda’s “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees” — his longing is celebratory and expansive. These poems hold counsel with the heart, the heart that beckons “for you I always will be here.”

–Elizabeth Scanlon, Editor of American Poetry Review

The poems that make up Love Undefined are those of a lover — of the juice and joy of words, of metaphor and simile, alliteration, personification, neologisms. Jonathan Katz’s poetry is an imagistic plenitude of all that is alive, organic and inorganic: from trees and insects to shells on the beach to the color red! In dazzling lines, JKatz will riff in elaborative and surprising tropes that awaken the ordinary, while in a more deliberate lyricism he writes of eros in the most nuanced of love poems.

–Merrill Leffler, Publisher at Dryad Press