Gina Myers: Hold It Down

16 Apr

Hold_it_down_frontGina Myers’ second full-length collection of poems, Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013), centers itself around the two long poems “False Spring” and “Behind the R,” both of which explore the terrain of the speaker’s consciousness as she lives, works, and writes in a particular city.

I’ve written at length before about “False Spring” and its dual intent to “explore both the city of Saginaw, Michigan and a poetic consciousness that shifts with the seasons,” while simultaneously expanding its vision through our “modern information systems” so that it cannot be pigeonholed as “a placed-based text that estranges readers not from Saginaw or similar Michigan cities.” As such, I’d like to focus my attention on “Behind the R.”

In 1883, Emma Lazarus immortalized the Statue of Liberty in her sonnet “The New Colossus.” She envisioned the statue as a monument to “world-wide freedom” that welcomed the tired, poor, and huddled masses who yearned “to breathe free” in the United States and make a better life for themselves.

While Lady Liberty may have offered the promise of a better life for immigrants during the late-nineteenth century, the speaker of “Behind the R” views the statue much differently one hundred and fourteen years later:

still the abandoned streetcars at the end of Van Brunt
spider web windshield & slow rust
weeds bent through tracks
brick streets & eyes      cast to sea
over the      East River   sails & tugboats
water taxi tours past
the statue of liberty           dilapidated
factory
crumbling into the water
small town Brooklyn
or anywhere (31)

Behind the R the sun is setting
on the statue of liberty
a cruise liner dock three blocks
from the projects
wild dogs roam the streets (33)

The “dilapidated” images of Brooklyn with which Myers surrounds the statue suggest that the city, our country, and the ideals of liberty and freedom have begun “crumbling into the water,” both physically and psychically. We rust. We are overgrown with weeds. We are hounded by wild dogs. We are lost in our own streets.

And the deteriorating cityscape affects the speaker’s well-being. No more clearly does the poem make this apparent as when Myers writes: “Sometimes your environment makes you hate yourself” (39); and it would appear that the self-hatred manifests itself in a list of fears both common and bizarre:

fear of voids or empty spaces
fear of time travel
fear of waves or wave-like motions
fear of hearing good news
fear of swallowing or being eaten
fear of the knee bending backwards
fear of nihilism
fear of rain or of being rained on (24)

fear of picnics
fear of taking tests
fear of being buried alive or of cemeteries
fear of symmetry
fear of the color red
fear of being tickled by feathers
fear of writing in public (37)

fear of crosses or of crucifixes
fear of the figure 8
fear of the color blue
fear of crowded rooms
fear of empty rooms
fear of dizziness or whirlpools
fear of dining or dinner conversation (43)

Yes, there is no shortage of fears that the city and its ruins can induced within the speaker. Moreover, these fears might be “the very language” needed “to articulate our unfreedom” (20), thus eradicating our false belief in the freedom we think we experience.

The combination of unfreedom, fear, and a crumbling surroundings, though, begs the question: Where is the hope? If everything fails, what is to stop us from sliding into the very nihilism the speaker mentions in her list of fears? The answer the poem offers is to turn “a blind eye / to the newspaper stand” (45) and disengage from the narratives forwarded by mainstream media and the like.

Yet, in the previously reviewed “False Spring,” the speaker seeks to engage with broader social, cultural, political, and artistic communities in order connect with other people outside of the worn landscape of Michigan. So what is one to do? On the one hand, retreat offers the comfort of ignorance, but the loneliness of disengagement; on the other hand, participation provides community, but also a heightened and debilitating fear. Myers’ second book might not be able to solve this conundrum, but it does thrive on the tension produced from it: the push and pull of the speaker’s desire both to engage the world around her and withdraw into her art. The best solution the book might offer resides in the title: Hold It Down. And while you’re at it, take some deep breaths, maybe move to Atlanta, and revel in the knowledge that:

Not every day
can be a good day
but this [could be] one
of them, one
of the best days (98)

Yes, things can be difficult, but the hope that today could be one “of the best days” keeps us going; or, as Lazarus wrote in “The New Colossus,” there might be “wretched refuse” along our “teeming shore,” but we remain hopeful for a better future wherein we “lift [our] lamp beside the golden door!”

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2 Responses to “Gina Myers: Hold It Down”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. National Poetry Month Recap | Vouched Books - May 2, 2013

    […] Hold It Down by Gina Myers […]

  2. Sunday, August 18 at the Ballroom! | lostintheletters - August 10, 2013

    […] Myers is the author of Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013) and A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) as well as several chapbooks. She […]

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