This has the dubious honor of being the first book TikTok made me buy. Way back in 2020, I came across a video of someone taking it off their shelf, flipping to a random page, and reading one of the short, punchy poems. From that and the subject matter alone, I thought it was worth giving a shot. As someone who is long distance dating, I was hoping Courtney Peppernell and Zack Grey’s poems and prose about relationships across space would speak to me.
The book is organized into five sections: At First Glance, Living for Tomorrow, Lonely Nights, Grow Together / Grow Apart, and When I See You. This helps the poems within those sections focus on a cohesive idea within the overarching theme. At First Glance, for example, is meetings, honeymoon phases, and beginnings. In this way, the book is able to somewhat replicate a distanced relationship as hopes and loneliness ebb and flow within an individual. However, other than the five sections, the book is unorganized in terms of not having a table of contents and none of the poems have names or very memorable first lines. So, when looking for an individual poem, it can be hard to find it among the rest.
Most of Peppernell and Grey’s writings seem in conversation with each other by virtue of switching on and off. We go from one of Peppernell’s prose pieces to one of Grey’s poems and then back. I enjoyed how this made it feel like two people talking across a great distance, but feeling similar things. However, at a line level, you’ll notice the speakers in their writings are talking to two different people so even though the writings are put in conversation they’re not actually speaking to each other. At times this does create confusion, especially initially. The cohesion between the two works to both its merit and detriment. They have shared imagery and emotional notes, like the idea of skies and stars, the ocean, or flying. However, over the course of 237 pages, this becomes too repetitive. Even though I like the idea of collaboration between two writers and those works tend to be longer than singular ones, this feels like at least 50 pages could have been cut and nothing would have been lost.
This brings me to the writing. I’ve written about Rupi Kaur in the past and I’ve written about Bianca Stone. Both are different kinds of poets. Since 2014, we have seen a growth in quickly published “Tumblr/Insta poetry” which is recognizable because it lacks many of the definable traits of classic poetry (and has a certain feel). The Space Between Us, for being over 200 pages, took me barely any time to read. Most of the poems are only a few lines and have little deep meaning. Few have metaphors or even similes to parse through; they tend to be very literal. This may be the reason they feel so repetitive. The idea of space can be translated in so many ways, but when spoken of so plainly or when the same images and metaphors are used it’s like trying to talk on a tin can phone with loose string. However, what the poetry does do is make the book accessible. The prose and poetry are easy to read and easy to understand. This makes poetry accessible for readers and people in long distance relationships who might normally not read poetry – which is great.
What the book does accomplish, overall, is a sense of connection with its readers who are in a similar situation. It commiserates with longing for a person who is far away. Sometimes friends or family won’t understand, but this book gets that. It uses situations or imagery that people in long distance are familiar with and makes them feel aesthetic, special, or elevated. And, to be fair, there aren’t too many books written about being in a long distance relationship that aren’t self-help or designed for every day couples as well. It’s a unique situation when you and your partner are separated by hours (however much) and – especially now – when varying border conditions make the unknowability of when you might see each other that much harder. So this book fills that void and, while it does have faults, it’s still a valuable contribution in that regard and you can also feel Peppernell and Grey’s experiences in their words. They’re not pretending at having had these relationships; their writings come from places of previous hardship. They commiserate with their readers.
So, obviously, I might recommend this book to people in long distance relationships. Maybe it’s a book you and your partner can read together or you can share certain poems with them (especially if they remind you of how you feel about them). Otherwise, if you enjoy easy access poetry this may be a nice addition. However, if you don’t care to read the same sense of longing expressed in the same way 200 times, then this probably should be a skip.
Happy National Poetry Month!