My G-G-G-G-Generation

Reviewed by Tina Northrup

andrea bennett’s Canoodlers begins with light-hearted cheek, as the poem “Epigraph” sets the tone:

You have a poetic sensibility, 
my father says. Maybe, 
when you clean your room, 
you will find it. 

Subsequent poems consider the staged lives of the “hot messes” and “handsome wrecks” who live famously, while others reflect on more intimate scenes of families made tense by frays and tears in the ties that bind. While family relations are severed via Facebook’s “unfriend” function, bonds are forged elsewhere as bennett’s poems memorialize friends, lovers, and the folks who drift in and out of our lives.

Throughout Canoodlers, bennett trades in dreamlike, surreal connections. The uncanny is everywhere present, leavened by snatches of conversation and the vernaculars of the everyday. In “Because the Juices Run Pink,” a litany of reasons replaces an unspoken question:

Because you are at home, deciding if you can go home for the holidays. Because your mother  
forgets that you called. Because you are working, but not quite enough. Because you are  
working too much. Because you are an appetite. Because you take the organs and the neck out  
of the bird before it goes in the oven. Because no one has called you. Because you forgot to call, 
or your call has been forgotten. Because decisions need to be made. Because of saturation  
points. Because of satiation. Because you have to open yourself up, expose your organs to a  
hand. Because eventually the juices run clear.

In “Talons,” desire is caught by an image striking and resonant enough to bring Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho to mind:

She said she’d play the part of the owl
now, if I wanted. 
And though her eyes opened
like a blade unsheathing, she kept
her nails so short they flashed
a slip of pink skin. 

bennett’s poems are captivating and clever, with varied tastes for the comedic, the macabre, and the stuff of daily living. Theodor Adorno walks into a kitchen to pronounce on the weakened culture of homemade yogurt; squirrels are invited, Hansel and Gretel-like, into the warmth of a hot oven; a lesbian fraternity considers the dynamics of “long hairs and short hairs” as they hit the road—“It’s conceded: long hairs can date short hairs, yes. But who’s going to carry the stuff?”

Canoodlers is a welcoming collection—one that invites readers into homes made and left behind throughout years of early adulthood. By contrast, Stevie Howell’s [Sharps] opens with “The Guard”—a poem that appears before the collection’s title page, and that serves simultaneously as a gesture of admittance and an administered pause:

King Tut, 5’6”, lies supine on mould-flecked cotton, 
ceiling-transfixed. Body broken
as if struck by lightning. Dead at nineteen, 
before purpose, before the remark. 
My avatar. 

Throughout the collection, Howell’s poems are edged with violence and whetted with measured and attentive lines. The speaker of one reflects on her First Communion, then on experiences with Hare Krishnas and Bahá’ís before concluding:

My school and church were poverty and violence. A quadriplegic
classmate lived in a Winnebago. Her mother’s ex
cowered in a laundry hamper with a gun and shot her dead
one Sunday after mass. That’s all I know. 

Howell’s poems speak of people who “fumble towards intention,” who compare social rivals to the eerie children in The Shining, who see Rip Torn’s likeness in portraits of the Queen, and who debate the longevity of “the three-winged, / fluorescent snow angel of radiation”—a symbol that may mean zilch to whomever or whatever is alive to come across it in 100,000 years. Some poems are sharp and playful, eschewing the Roman alphabet to copy the wax rubbings of children in museums of natural history—“Dinosaurs have a Jungian resonance / with the <5 set,” after all. Others are worrisome and ominous. Some probe the “the one thing you can do / with a sawed-off rifle, a low IQ, and curiosity / about human biology;” others chronicle inventories of online vitriol and hate. Readers may find that Howell’s work calls Karen Solie’s to mind, or that of Ken Babstock (who provided a back-cover blurb). It is exquisitely visceral, and arrestingly intelligent.

This review “My G-G-G-G-Generation” originally appeared in Agency & Affect. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 223 (Winter 2014): 124-25.

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