'That Ex' points to poetry

Rachelle Toarmino stands reciting her first full-length book of poetry at Penn Dixie Fossil Park on Aug. 7. She will be attending UMass Amherst in the fall to get her MFA in poetry.

“That Ex” is a full-length book of poetry written by Rachelle Toarmino, a Niagara Falls native who is leaving Western New York to study poetry at UMass Amherst in New England.

Toarmino said, she spent the majority of her childhood in the Falls, but it wasn’t until her mid-20s that she became interested in poetry. Working on-and-off at a local bookstore, she taught English in Spain for three years, as well as working on her brainchild, Peach Mag, an online literary magazine.

“When you say, ‘that ex,’ I like how it refers to someone, and its also a stereotype. When your’e that ex, you know you’ve gotten yourself in some trouble. That crazy ex,” she said. “But I also love the word ‘that.’ There’s no other word in the English language that does more pointing than the word ‘that.’ ‘This’ does some gesturing, but the word ‘that’ has some sort of implicit pointing to it. I liked that distance, between whoever was saying the words ‘that ex’ and the subject that they were pointing to evoke some of the publicness of the grief.”

She launched her book Aug. 7 at Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve. Standing on top of a black SUV with golden balloons spelling out the title of her book under her, she read into the FM radios of 10 vehicles gathered for the event.

“I wrote the book over the course of my mid-to-late 20s, a lot of those poems are pretty old, so it was a fun experience learning how to arrange the poems in an order that was not chronological that could tell a new story. The book isn’t about one breakup, even though it seems like it is,” Toarmino said. “The catharsis that really, I’m experiencing right now, is it’s weird to put out a book during a pandemic when you can’t give it a welcoming party. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot this weekend, just riding the high of Friday is a new understanding of why it’s important for people to have parties with their communities and their families.”

Poets such as Anne Carson and Frank O’Hara line the list of writers and artists that inspire Toarmino, but in the citations include references to the pop artist Lorde, and Britney Spears.

“Britney was like the first pop star of my youth,” Toarminio said. “There was the Spice Girls, but they were a group. Britney was like, I feel like I was there for her whole thing. I remember when she first got famous, I remember her first hits on the radio, and then I remember all of her conflict and controversial gossip. When she shaved her head, when she and Justin broke up. … I feel like I grew up with her as a slightly older female figure who I watched go through a very public break up. … to the extent that pop-culture icons can be part of your real world. Britney, you can’t leave her out.”

Toarmino said this book is also dedicated to her friends. She talked about one poem which is simply the words, “You are easy to love” written over and over again.

“My eyes started to criss-cross every time I tried to follow it,” she said of reading it at her launch. “I wanted to connect more with the crowd, so at a certain point I was just guessing when the poem ended. I wrote that poem after a conversation with a friend, and this book I dedicate to my friends. It’s dedicated to the group chat, those are my people who got me through something. I wrote that poem after a conversation with a friend in which they helped me feel lovable, I think one of the hardest things about going through a romantic breakup is this feeling that no one will love you again, no one knows you the way that the other person does, just like the excruciating and embarrassing process of becoming known to another person and convincing yourself it’s worth it, because you’re a lovable person. So, part of that poem is the speaker convincing herself its true like it’s a mantra. If she says it enough, it will stick.”

"That Ex" is now available through several online sellers, including Amazon.

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