Such remarks needed to be challenged, I realized, so I challenged them. "So, are there boy poets too?" Yes -- Tony Hoagland. He had a point there. "Are you just jealous of younger women poets who are getting acclaim? What about Noelle Kocot?" He adored Noelle Kocot.
I, as it happens, loved Interior with Sudden Joy, Brenda Shaughnessy's first book, and was looking forward to getting to her second, Human Dark with Sugar, my appetite whetted by its having won the James Laughlin Award, the winning volumes in which series are typically worthwhile and sometimes excellent. But now I approached it with a certain apprehension. Would it be...girlish?
Right in the first poem, there was this line: "It's like having having a bad boyfriend in a good band." Which does sound...you know. Not only is it hard to imagine adult women putting the quality of the bad boyfriend's band in the credit column against the badness of the boyfriend, it's hard to imagine even gay young men letting such a consideration enter the emotional calculus. A girl, however....
Having found one, I was primed to find more --
It's easy to make more of myself by eating.
and sometimes easy's the thing.
If I had my way, spring would
revolve slowly and solely around me.
Each morning, I'm the earth's
Three million Richards can't be wrong.
Don't, don't feel like the runt alien
on my ship: I get you.
Sometimes, there were lines that seemed composed to be written in yearbooks:
Throw your love until it sticks, and know
you'll only know it stuck
if it ends up sticking.
You break again
and again because
that's what breaking means.
To be whole.
Sometimes, I wondered if Shaughnessy was in fact purposefully and with tongue somewhat in cheek going for the girlish, as in this from a poem titled, "First Date, and Still Very, Very Lonely."
I was mortified, really lost.
After that I thought,
I have to meet someone.
Eventually the girlishness was bringing out a boy-squeamishness in me. "Once a month / the next month comes. / Once a month / the boat is broken / because the moon is not./ It means, stay home, human, / if you're leaking. Or does it mean, / There is nothing you need / unsubmerged." Is she talking about her period? Eww, gross!
All the while, though, I was also thinking, "if that guy hadn't said anything about 'girl poetry,' you'd be enjoying this right now." I know, for instance, that I would have been impressed by the sequence "The Loved Body" and would not have felt a flashing amber light at titles like "Dancing in my Room Alone," a light that turned red at the phrase, "Don't turn me back into that seventh-grader...." As it is, I'm afraid to go back and look at Interior with Sudden Joy. Perhaps it too, read with my new girlishness-wary sensibilities, will turn out to have been girl poetry. Or perhaps I need to stop listening to every poet who spouts off....