I felt rather prescient, because I started on this poetry collection a little before the poet got some attention for her response (published on Buzzfeed) to the ‘yellowface’ debacle in the latest edition of Best American Poetry. A friend of mine even sent that essay to me and I got to say, ha, I know about her! I’m reading her poetry. Always a satisfying feeling.
Of course, I hadn’t read much of Dear Jenny, We Are All Find at that point and my subsequent reading of it has been colored (not a pun, but what the heck) by her essay.
I read it as an angry, frustrated collection. While it is risky and usually wrong to read poetry as being intrinsically autobiographical, without classifying the poems as being particularly confessional, it is easy to see a repetition of themes on the body of a person of color as… not really the ‘other,’ but perhaps as a contentious object. The body as physical and organic (some scatalogical lines, references to sexual fluids), the body as frustrated by desire (whether by fetishization by others or by the body’s own unfulfilled desires).
Actually, those poems were the best. Her lighter poems, especially those touching on poetry culture and mocking Brooklyn, millennial, hipster, MFA style pretentiousness were… meh. Disappointing compared to the more aggressive, more political (not in the sense of addressing immediate issues like Syria or voting rights, but in the sense that the writings of Judith Butler and Elaine Scarry are political – and since her bio says she went to Stanford and got an MFA form Iowa… I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that philosophers like them came up in conversation) poems.
The poem below has a title that makes it sounds like the ones I’m not so fond of… but it’s not. Maybe not the best poem in the collection (though very good), but an example of what I’ve been talking about.
Don’t fucking text your friends when I’m reading a poem I took two years to write
or if you do it then be
right and if you are right be
relentless like this was relentless
when you spoke to that bitch
she was just That Bitch
and you were just A Good Guy
and that was the first time My Lips
wanted to be lips and they were
just the lips that your little movers
loaded in a van that lived in Norway
like you live in a place that is so faraway
my entrenched feelings have a way
of making themselves known
to know me is to know my mother’s bad English
the time I charmed you with not wanting
to not want to not take a shit
in my pants which were yours
the smell was also yours
you gave me the constipated figurine
I washed it like it was my own
and it was your face that gave me the finest idea
the idea of not having any more ideas
was good enough if it meant saving the idea
of you or the time you yanked metal
from your hand which does not leave me
even when my face is no longer a face
and my ideas no longer ideas
just the fine French doors you live inside
like I live inside this promise
like you live inside my dreams
the best ones where you did not yet exist
though I knew this fine universe
would create you eventually
and I would never stop thanking my mother
for creating me too.