Sunday, January 11, 2009

More Than Friends

This slim book of poems–More Than Friends: Poems from Him and Her by Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf–may be short (it’s only 64 pages), but it offers the kind of original insights into young love that give the book the weight and significance that you’d expect in a novel three times its length.

On each page you’ll find poems that reveal the developing friendship between two teenagers (the Him and Her of the title) as their relationship progresses beyond friendship into new, unexpected territory.

Holbrook and Wolf reveal the beginning of that transition--from friends to something more--in a free-verse poem, “Veggie Panini Is the Answer to Everything”:

I don’t know what makes
two people “just friends” on Thursday
and “more than friends" on Friday.
But today was Friday.
The one-hundredth look
was different from the first ninety-nine.
Today’s “Hi” was different
from every “Hi” that came before.

Both Holbrook and Wolf are poets who have outgrown their teen years, yet they possess vivid emotional memories of what it’s like to be a teenager falling in and out of love with someone who, only moments earlier, was a friend.

Using poetic forms (including the couplet, tercet, quatrain, and refrain, as well as more complex structures: luc bat, poem for two voices, sonnet, tanka, terza rima, and vilanelle), the poets describe the many new, conflicting emotions of love: the longing for a partner; the loss of independence; the desire and pleasure of finding one’s self in the arms of another; and the sense, finally, of belonging.

In the tanka poem, “Phone Call," they share the frustration that Her and Him feel over no longer being able to hang out with old friends:

No, no. I can’t go.
You-know-who is stopping by.
I’m supposed to wait.
Who knows? I can tell you this:
we’re not headed to the mall.

Yo, Damon. What up?
You got tickets? ‘Course I’ll go!
No way would I miss–
Oh. No. Wait. I’ve got a... thing.
That’s cool. Y’all go ... without me.

In poem after poem, the authors strike emotional high and low notes with perfect pitch, showing readers the characters as they struggle to learn how to negotiate the subtle and not-so-subtle boundaries between longing and desire, and as they step back and forth over the ever-shifting line between fantasy and reality, friendship and love.

Part of that struggle involves each character trying to figure out who he or she is and who he or she is with another person while learning to trust that person. And part of that struggle involves discovering how things can go from great to... well, not-so-great... in the blink of an eye, as the authors show in this excerpt from the sonnet “I Thought That Things Were Really Going Great:”

You knew, from jump, that I’m no fashion plate.
Now suddenly you’re calling me a slob?
I thought that things were really going great.
You act like I’m applying for a job.
You want a full report when I’m not home.
The slightest misstep triggers your alarm.
While I admit my eyes do sometimes roam,
I look but I don’t touch, so what’s the harm?

These poems trace the arc of a friendship between a boy and girl that becomes something more than friendship and then, just as suddenly and inexplicably, flames out like a dying star, leaving both boy and girl (and readers) with a deeper understanding of love and the complexity--and unpredictability--of human nature.

For more information about Sara Holbrook, visit her website:

And check out Sara’s blog at

For more information about Allan Wolf, check out his website:

or visit:


laurasalas said...

Lovely review, Bruce, that really captures this book (which I thought was wonderful!).

Bruce Black said...

Thanks so much, Laura. I miss our poetry panel discussions and eagerly await the decision of the Cybils judges.