April is…poetry month: Deborah Garrison

 

image from The New York Times

Continuing on with my poetry exploration, here’s Deborah Garrison – former editor at The New Yorker, current poetry editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

I like her straightforward, but fun, take on womanhood. The collection that I picked up, A Working Girl Can’t Win, was written when she was in her 20s as a single woman living in Manhattan and testing out the waters of career and dating. The poems capture that stage in life perfectly. (Now she’s a married mother of 3 living in suburban New Jersey.) “‘Accessible’ is a word both fans and detractors use for her poetry,” writes The New York Times. “Serious” poets and critics apparently find this a problem, but that’s what I like about it.

Garrison doesn’t mind the assessment. “I need to feel that the language in my poems is alive, in the sense of talking on the phone to a friend, sharing gossip.” Every time I pass by the neighborhoord firehouse,  I realize why there is a photo calendar of firemen and not of, say, accountants.

The Firemen

God forgive me –

It’s the firemen,
leaning in the firehouse garage
with their sleeves rolled up
on the hottest day of the year.

As usual, the darkest one is handsomest.
The oldest is handsomest.
The one with the thin wiry arms is handsomest.
The young one already going bald is handsomest.

And so on.
Every day I pass them at their station:
The word sexy wouldn’t do them justice.
Such idle men are divine –

especially in summer, when my hair
sticks to the back of my neck,
a dirty wind from the subway grate
blows my skirt up, and I feel vulgar,

lifting my hair, gathering it together,
tying it back while they watch
as a kind of relief.
Once, one of them walked beside me

to the corner. Looked into my eyes.
He said, “Will I never see you again?”
Gutsy, I thought.
I’m afraid not, I thought.

What I said was I’m Sorry.
But how could he look into my eyes
if I didn’t look equally into his?
I’m sorry: as though he’d come close, as though

this really was a near miss.

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13 comments

    1. I’d stumbled across her work just recently and felt a connection. If you’re having a bad day at work, her poem “Please Fire Me” will make you feel better right away. 🙂

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    1. So true! If it’s too obscure, then it seems a bit pretentious. In almost every poem in this collection there was a line or two that made me think, “Yes I feel that way, too.”

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  1. What a wonderful poem. I’m not familiar with her so thank you for this. So true that accessible is often considered a dirty word in literature. Why? I sure as hell hope my writing is considered accessible.

    PS–Am I the only one who calls you Jacquelin? Would you prefer Jackie? (Rebecca R.’s tweet response got me wondering! I can be awfully dim about these things.)

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    1. I know some authors who don’t worry much about the readers when their writing. They feel it intrudes on the creative process. I feel just the opposite. I consider the reader at every stage. Is this phrasing clear? Is the momentum waning? Are the characters engaging?

      I do go by Jackie. I used Jacquelin on the cover of The Subway Chronicles. It made my mom happy. 🙂

      Looking forward to when your book comes out in October.

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  2. That does it. I’m going to have to read as much of Garrison’s work as possible. I love when poetry is frank but descriptive without being sentimental. Thanks for the tip!

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    1. I’m new to her as well. I’ve really been enjoying her work.

      I’m reading another poet right now that I think you’ll really enjoy…more soon.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed this one. I find I can relate better to poems that use plain language and come from everyday experiences. They are much more approachable. Thanks for stopping by!

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    1. Thanks for recommending “Worked Late…” I hadn’t read that one. I’ll check it out.
      I love when I come across a writer or poet and wonder why I hadn’t been following them all along. Where has Deborah Garrison been all my life? 🙂

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