Erica Caines’ “All In Love Is Fair” :: A Critique Of Sorts

Erica Ryan Caines

Words reside in my spirit, entangle my mind and captivate my imagination…I live for words. I live through words.



Every now and again a body of work comes across the Desk of Asylum that reminds me of those written works that initially sparked my own word wielding. What I liked most about this particular bit of inspiration is that it dealt with love. And yes, romantic love, eros. And I think the brilliance of Ms. Caines’ work is that she embodies it in such a fashion as it does not feel overly saturated and oozing with awkward sentiment. It does not read like a book of poems about a love I have never felt. The words reflect a love and an infatuation with a person like the ones I have felt. For that reason Erica’s writing stands out.


I do not want to cover every piece in her 71 paged book, you should do that for yourself! However, I do wish to highlight three of her poems. The book is divided into three sections of work. The first section is entitled,”Amor Incipit”, and here are the words of one the pieces from that section that stand out to me:


Erica Ryan Caines

A hidden interest only shared with the stale pages of a
long kept notebook
Desires I can’t ever seem to be able to overlook
My pen knows my thoughts all too well
Gossipping on yellow tinted pages, anxious to tell.


Details about the makings of you.
Your structured suits and silk ties in vast shades of
Your eyes; the clearest shade of brown


How my world seems to stop motion whenever you
come around
My pen and I tell those pages things we wouldn’t dare
share with anyone else
Those surreptitious moments I try to keep to myself.
Like the bit of joy I get from our everyday exchanges
and smile
Followed by a silent prayer for you to stay awhile
I could never let you know any of this, you see
So instead, this is a well kept secret between myself, my
pen and my diary



I enjoyed the wording here. Mainly the line,”the clearest shade of brown.” As a Black man, it is one of those details you don’t get to read often. Not too many people in my life have described my eyes as having a clear anything!!! I also was moved to draw a line under the words,”Gossiping on yellow tinted pages…”, which for me was just a great usage of framing in a space more prone to sentimental musings. I have never read or heard anyone considering their private writings in books dedicated to private writings as “gossiping”. But the notion is not lost on me either! It is a rich detail that I have grown fond of while reading Erica’s work.


Erica Ryan Caines

At the edge of a cliff staring at what’s awaiting not
scared of the results terrified of the journey vowing to
wait for me vowing to stay with me
I trust in your word.
A true feat.
I leap…
I fly against the breeze Arms stretched out, free-falling
Fear escapes me
Thoughts surround me Wondering if at this very
I feel what you feel.
Vowing to wait for me
Vowing to stay with me
I take comfort in your words
A true feat.
Only you, I agree to fall for No longer suspended in air
Suspended in this moment
No more anxiety
Safe…within love



Found in the second section of her book, entitled, “FreeFall,” is one of those poems I enjoyed due to the topic it dealt with and the manner in which it was dealt. In much of the poetry I have been exposed to, the issue of love, especially romantic love is such a binary. Here is a piece that deals with the middle ground, that flux, the initial stages of being vulnerable enough to let go. It is aptly titled by the metaphor and imagery of a free-fall. The risks of sacrificing one’s emotional space are depicted as the edge of a cliff, or at least that which one might meet staring down, anyway! And it resonates. I enjoy her logic here. The idea that love, yes, romantic love, can also be a choice. The poem’s clear statement through the vivid images is that the speaker is making a dedicated and conscious choice to trust someone(“I trust in your word”) and to release themselves, so to speak, into that trust. Which as the phrase “fall in love” is typically used to state the opposite. Normally, the idea of “falling in love” is this unconscious and overly emotional sentiment; yet, Erica invites us to view it as a choice, still a leap and “a true feat”, but a choice, nonetheless.


Erica Ryan Caines

He tried to be something he wasn’t
I tried to be something he wanted
Entrapped in lust,
Disheveled by love.
Love, such an awkward multifaceted term
A magic fix, something earned
Battered by the effort
Hypnotized by the comfort
Strangers dressed up as lovers
Raw emotion surfaces under covers
Passions streaming towards each other
Drawn to each other
Magnetic forces camouflaged as fate
A straining hardship to keep the faith
Nothing more than a lie…



In the last and final section of Erica’s “All In Love Is Fair”, “Amor Desinit”,she escorts us through the finality of a relationship, the bitterness, and the more than philosophical ruminations of exactly what “love” in its romantic notions–and possibly the romance itself– should be or might be. One of my favorite pieces in this section(I actually had a hard time picking one from this section–go figure), is entitled,”Fabrication”. In it, Erica’s opening lines work their way like a sharp glass clawing through my mental membranes.


“He tried to be something he wasn’t/I tried to be something he wanted”


It is a haunting depiction of a romantic entanglement, but like much of her writing in this book, it is aided by the comfort of resonance. The idea that I am attempting to stress about her work is just how blatant the economy of it is. After reading that first line, I wanted to say,”ouch” for the brother! No overly dramatic metaphor was needed there. Just an acute, candid, and well phrased insight. Her vulnerability is extended through this one as she admits to a romance based more on physical compatibility than that “awkward multifaceted term”. The title of the poem is given its double entendre quality by the expression,”Raw emotion surfaces under covers”. Fabric-ation indeed.


Erica Caine’s “Love” is not the fantasy romance poetry. It is not quasars and lofty metaphors built on space ships. It is the real thought process coded in the verbal economy of poetry of a Black Woman intentionally inviting a Black Man into her exclusive and protected emotional space. Even as a budding poet, this being her first collection of poetry to meet print, I still was put in the mind of Lucille Clifton while reading her work. Erica Caine is a witty, edgy, honest, and serious poet. I have thoroughly enjoy interacting with her words in this collection.

Let’s Talk About Sex…Well, Couples Anyway…

Conversations have to be the life blood of a blogger’s inspiration. I want to revisit the discussion I had on Twitter yesterday regarding relationships. Romantic relationships to be exact. As a disclaimer, and I truly feel that writings like this should have a caveat: I’m not a relationship guru, I don’t claim to be one, and I don’t particularly feel the need to have my words taken in that context. Furthermore, as most you have gathered, I’m pretty much a relativist in my thinking, and romantic relationships tend to span the spectrum from swingers to polyamorous couples. I have my own beliefs about relationships, and I don’t want to impose on another person’s choice–within a certain context of social responsibility, of course.


That out the way…


Alright, I’d like to freestyle a bit and hopefully I don’t diverge into too many varying directions. From what I’m reading, observing, and hearing from others,it seems to me that there is a lot of fear with regard to intimate relationships and committed romantic involvements. From the discussion of ready made families, fears about games, fears about committing, fears about being with someone with a sordid past, and sexual insecurities in general. I’ve pretty much heard the same sorts of discussions on both sides of the gender aisle: guys saying women have unrealistic expectations, or they don’t want to date a woman who used to only date “thugs” and now that they are older they want to settle down with someone who is a little less aggressive. Women saying men don’t know what they want from a woman, and the guys they are meeting have children with multiple women, or just don’t seem like they are ready to settle down. There does seem to be a certain generational divide, where younger people are a little less prone to want to commit.


With hip hop promoting not only a promiscuous life style, but one in which men are “pimps” or “super players” and women are “gold diggers” or only wanting to be involved with men that are only there to provide finances for their material exploits, there is going to be a difficulty to trust those in the dating pool. With the human propensity for novelty and security figured into that emotional miasma, you can expect a high level of relationships that aren’t, in my opinion, really aren’t worthy of the definition of exclusive.


You’ve got two different social paradigms at play here. On the one hand, you’ve got people who can’t find a mate, or aren’t pleased with their prospects. On the other hand, you’ve got people supposedly committed to someone, and yet they are either not really happy, cheating, sharing themselves openly with others(I might actually tackle that at some point in time), or just in what I call a “professional relationship”. By “professional relationship” I mean, two people basically just together to provide financial support, a good showing at social gatherings, and every now and then, a warm body. The type of scenario in which the parties involved have lost a considerable amount of respect for the bond, a lot of times aren’t even friends and have grown so far apart that their lifestyles could possible be in conflict, ie, he hates her friends, she hates his hobbies, they don’t interact well, well, because they have no common interests and actually despise the type of person the other has become. Those types of situations can get ugly, meaning violent, depending on the persons involved. Plus, there is going to be a difficulty in compromising on a vision for the relationship(an idea of what the couple should be striving for in the future) if their lifestyles are so divergent that their concepts of what a relationship should be like are incompatible. Works for some, it tends to sound like a waste of my time to me.


Which sort of brings us full circle. If we aren’t seeing many healthy relationships, and the ones we have been in weren’t experiences we’d like to repeat, we are bringing negative emotions into the dating pool. The direction that I’m hearing a lot of people going is the “cuddy buddy with emotional investments route”. Let me describe this…its a commitment that isn’t a commitment. It’s sex, dinner, movies, and social gatherings with hand holding…but no formal agreement between the two people involved that they are actually a couple. It’s the “we are exclusive but not exclusive enough for you to obligate me to anything relationship-y…” route. Its the “you can’t claim me” game. From my experience, observations, and discussions, these tend to be pretty messy. There is no definition! It’s Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” for intimates! I’ve personally learned that, for me, I’d rather take my chances on a break up than an emotional investment that doesn’t really exist. I tend be better suited for situations the have some sort of rules of engagement. And another thing, I’ve had a lot of experiences with people testing boundaries, it is my practice in most social involvements to lay down some sort of understanding of “this far, and no further”. Of course, I tend to be quite old school in my views regarding intimate bonds.


Per the earlier disclaimer…these are simply my expressed ruminations about romantic coupling. However, in a society where wealth and power are controlled by families that don’t seem to want to ease up on their stranglehold, you’re probably going to want other people to at least be accepting of the idea of a committed relationship. I personally would hope that they are loving couples, because loving couples tend to rear emotionally nourished children. Friends tend to make time more enjoyable, so it seems logical that two people who are sharing the sort of intimate space that couples routinely do, they should probably have some common interests and enjoy a healthy loyalty to one another.