He hasn’t even got his knees under the desk in the Oval Office and already Obama is managing his first crisis: the predicted collapse of the American auto industry. Obama is clear: he approves of a rescue, but he wants unspecified strings attached. “For the auto industry to completely collapse would be a disaster in this kind of environment, not just for individual families but the repercussions across the economy would be dire,” he said in his interview on CBS 60 Minutes. “We need to provide assistance to the auto industry. But I think that it can't be a blank check.” He hopes Congress will find a way of “providing assistance but making sure that that assistance is conditioned on labor, management, suppliers, lenders, all the stakeholders coming together with a plan. What does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like? So that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere.” What Obama has in mind is the appointment of a government car czar to oversee the auto industry. Asked why the Big Three should not go bankrupt, the president elect said, “In this situation, you could see the spigot completely shut off so that it would not potentially permit GM to get back on its feet.”
THE COST OF FAILURE
A Devastating ‘Domino Effect’
Three million jobs lost and a $165 billion welfare bill.
This week bosses from the Big Three auto makers will line up before Congress with their begging bowls in hand. General Motors could file for bankruptcy before Christmas unless the taxpayer steps in. But why should such a badly managed industry that has so poorly judged the public mood be saved? Isn’t this what bankruptcy is for?
There is a great variety when it comes to chapbooks. I’m not talking just about the inevitable range of quality between them, but in terms of why they exist. A few of the more common reasons are (not necessarily mutually exclusive):
1. The author is a regular on some poetry scene and puts one out, generally self-published, in order to have something to sell at readings.
2. The author is a good poet but not particularly interested in the military campaign that is getting to the first book. The chapbook stands in lieu of a book in this case.
3. The author “shows promise”, but somehow just isn’t quite ready for a full-lengther. The chapbook offers practice in how to assemble and promote the thing.
4. The author, being fairly well-established, is using the chapbook for a group of poems (or maybe a longer poem and sequence) that doesn’t quite fit in with the previous or next collection.
5. An accomplished author, established or “emerging”, uses a chapbook as a sort of “sneak preview” of a coming book. In the case of the “emerging” writer, it’s a sort of promissory note of what’s to come until the powers that be cop on to how great he or she is.
And Anna Evans falls into this last category. A recipient of an MFA from Bennington, on the editorial board of The Raintown Review, editor of The Barefoot Muse, and a frequent contributor to well-reputed literary journals, Evans is in that strange limbo where you’re by no means unknown, but just haven’t gotten the collection out. And until she wins a major contest or some editor gets wise to her work, we have Swimming (Maverick Duck Press, 2006).
When one is a poet living in a major urban area, is single, drinks a lot, smokes a lot, and has a personal life marked by a degree of instability, one tends to have a certain rant, with individual variations. Namely, that these self-satisfied suburbanites with their fancy gardens and big cars with GPS systems and kids and careers sure do write some boring-ass poetry. And in many cases, this is true. Of course, anyone who has ever been subjected to some restraining order waiting to happen “keeping it real” at a New York City open mic can attest that “living on the edge” in the big city is hardly a guarantee one will be any good, either.
I raise this because Anna Evans’s poems are very much poems of the suburbs, though with, perhaps, a glimpse back to the city and to single life. This is most noticeable in her poem, “The Lal Jomi”, about an Indian restaurant she and her husband used to frequent “…before the children thinned your hair/and thickened me”, in which the narrator recalls headier days of closing down the pub and filling up on tikka and shish kebab. The poem ends on a rueful note:
“Oh love, remember when the meal was done how we would press the hot towels to our faces, suck oranges, spit out the pips for fun, and split, so keen for bed we’d always run? These days we dine in ritzy four star places but love, you know I really miss that one.”
Nostalgic? Sure, but a poet should be allowed nostalgic moments, especially when a sense of place is so thoroughly evoked, the taste of “…coriander, pungent spice/burning on our tongues like the advice/ we swapped in drunken voices”. And most of Evans’s poems are not set in her youth, but in her suburban present.
And by and large they work. The opening poem, a free-verse lyric, called “The Lap Swimmer”, probably spends a bit too much time negotiating a fairly straightforward trope, and then there’s “Suburban Housewives In Their Forties”, about women sipping wine, watching their kids, tending their gardens, and realizing that they “are emptying/our minds; all of us have given up/visions of freelance photography…” and let’s hop to the end:
“We meet at the house with the screen porch, bringing bottles of Pinot and Chardonnay. Filling glasses with pale yellow liquid, we see right through ourselves as we empty them.”
Which is, of course, a boffo final image, but here, as, on occasion, elsewhere, one wonders if the poem is taking a drink or the drink taking the poem. The periodic sense of suburban ennui, through Evans’s very success at evoking it, teeters on becoming a bit overpowering in places.
However, any such tendencies in the chapbook (and they are far from overwhelming) are balanced by a surprising number of erotic poems. And they aren’t the sort of erotic poems one’s afraid of (alternately lineated porn or so elliptical that one has to ask, “That’s about fucking, right?”). Let me quote “Understandings” in full:
“When his fingers sneak over my skin, tweak a nipple, I offer no more resistance than the curve of my back, the splay of my shoulders. Then, with the oldest women’s movement–I turn and let him in.
“Inside me dwells a Parisienne from the last War–welcoming, but full of tricks. I concentrate on that spot in the parking lot where I first orgasmed, or the front row of the porn movie I pretended to watch for the plot.
“Eyes closed in the dark, I make believe I am getting what I want, give back what it takes to satisfy him that he has a dutiful wife. He pays the bills, doesn’t ask how I spend the rest of my life.”
And this poem plays to one of Evans’s strengths–she is very good at conveying coping, making do, not as an act of cowardice, but as an act of necessity. Because her narrators like the man about the house. They like their neighbors and kids. They recognize that life can be boring or disappointing, but they get on with it. And in that sense, the book is rather more optimistic than it might appear.
Now I feel almost churlish making this last point, but I feel it must be said. “Chapbook” need not mean “low production values”. A grainy design on the cover, cheap paper, an ugly font, and a lack of an ISBN number work against the author. Desktop publishing has gotten to a level where one can come out with something that looks quite good even with pretty basic software. For all its smaller size and the saddle-stapled binding, a chapbook is a book–a collection with an author’s name on the front and often an author’s first, and production is a key part of that.
But whatever the problems with presentation, these are poems well worth reading by a poet who will be going places, even if she remains beside the pool in her New Jersey suburb. And I hope the water’s at a good temperature and isn’t overchlorinated.
*A personal disclosure–I’ve been reviewed by Anna, have had poems in both journals with which she is involved editorially, and I know her in person. So sue me.
The Pushcart Prize nomination process. Little magazine and small book press editors (print or online) may make up to six nominations from their year’s publications by our December 1, (postmark) deadline. The nominations may be any combination of poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot. Editors may nominate self-contained portions of books — for instance, a chapter from a novel. We welcome translations, reprints and both traditional and experimental writing. One copy of each selection should be sent. No nominations can be returned. There is no entry fee and no forms to fill out. We also accept nominations from our staff of distinguished Contributing Editors.
Marilyn Mohr is the author of two volumes of poetry, Satchel (Cross Cultural Communications Press, Merrick, NY, 1992), and Running the Track(Aesopus Press, Woodstock, NY 1981). She has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, and has performed her work on radio and television. In 1989, her poem, Tzena, was choreographed by the Avodah Dance Ensemble. Mohr's work has also appeared in the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual and Home Planet News.
A native New Yorker, she lived in Woodstock, NY, where she was co-editor of The Woodstock Poetry Review and The Catskill Poets’ Series. She was the coordinator of the monthly reading series, The Poets’ Forum, at the JCC of Metropolitan New Jersey.
Callin' out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat? Summer's here and the time is right for dancin' in the street. Dancin' in Chicago (dancin' in the street) Down in New Orleans (dancin' in the street) In New York City