Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meg Kearney, _Home By Now_

MEG KEARNEY RECENTLY gave a reading here where I live, so I picked this up; published last year, it's her most recent book. Her language is plain, even colloquial, her themes often autobiographical (often about growing up as an adopted child, wondering about her biological parents), the lyrical idea usually lying near the surface, not too deeply buried, ready to be found. Hers is a poetry that even people who complain about poetry might enjoy.

My own taste is usually towards the baffling and outré, but even so I found a lot to like here. One poem responds to a writing teacher's advice (dated December 2001) to stop writing about herself and face the world ("George Says Stop Writing About Yourself") by listing all the things she is not to write about and thereby (ha!) writing about them nonetheless:

forget your mother
sipping a cigarette, a Dugan's Dew -- forget
your other mother, your other father, too,

and the one you last saw in a coffin not looking
at all like himself, so much not-him you couldn't
bear be near that body.

But this clever obedience-as-disobedience suddenly leaps into an engagement with history and the urgencies of the moment -- but then still based on the author's senses, her lived actuality:

It opens the window to that stench, three months

now of that smell, man-made, human, wafting
from downtown. This poem is in the street,
where war does its thing. See, there's a man
walking up Broadway: his shoes, suit, eyelashes,
lips covered with dust that used to be a building.

Also memorable are the wit of "First Blow Job":

Suddenly I knew what it was to be my uncle's Labrador retriever,
young pup paddling furiously back across the pond with the prized
duck in her mouth, doing the best she could to keep her nose in the air

so she could breathe.

And "So This Grasshopper Walks into a Bar," which does an extraordinary job of rendering the rhythms of a shift as a bartender, the early-evening bonhomie and euphoria metamorphosing into later-evening fumbling lust and red-eyed danger, to end with not a bang but a whimper -- the sour smells, the sense of abandonment and the unearthly quiet of closing.

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