Like Dean Young and Mary Ruefle, Gobble takes words to the playground, earnestly indulging their whims and curiosities, keeping them close with his sincerity and language that changes shape as fluidly as shadow puppets.
Gina 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
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!”
Gina Myers has a lot to think about. Some chief concerns: How did all of these pencils get in the grass? What is she trying to say? How did Louisville beat Michigan in the NCAA Championship last night? What constitutes a time travel love story? Does Bill and Ted Count?
Gina is the author of False Spring and A Model Year. Her forthcoming collection, Hold It Down (Coconut Books) will be released next Wednesday at the next Vouched Presents at the Goatfarm.
So what are your top five favorite time travel love stories?
Oh man, you hit me with a tough one right off the back! I have a lot of rules about what should and should not fall into this genre: for example, in Twin Peaks, Dale travels 25 years into the future to meet Laura Palmer, but the love story that he is involved with, with Annie, takes place in the “present” of the show–so that can’t really be a time travel love story; can it? In this year’s Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode, there was a storyline where Homer blew it with Marge in high school and had to travel repeatedly to future to try to win her. There are actually a few other Treehouse of Horror episodes that deal with time travel–like when Homer gets his hand stuck in a toaster and the toaster later becomes a time machine, or when they outlaw guns and Professor Frink gives Homer a time machine to travel back to warn everyone about the horrible future that will occur if they ban guns, but neither of these really involve love, unless we’re talking about the love of humanity and toast and guns. And then there’s the time that Homer transcends dimensions, and he finds an erotic bakery, that’s like love. I’ve managed to avoid answering the question thus far–
When you put it like that, Homer Simpson may be the ultimate romantic time-travel protagonist. He’s like a modern-day Odysseus of sorts! Do you view him as a tragic figure?
I am sure here that you intentionally compared him to Odysseus because he plays Odysseus in the episode where they re-enact classic tales. While passing through the river Styx, skeletons on the shore are rocking out to Styx’s “Lady,” and Homer exclaims, “Oh, this truly is hell!” He does share certain qualities of other tragic heroes–for example, it is usually his own flaws that cause his problems, but he frequently is able to dodge truly tragic outcomes. Things usually work out for him, or at the very least return to the status quo.
Life is really an uphill battle for Homer Simpson. Do you have a favorite episode of the Simpsons? I think mine may be the Lord of the Flies episode, though it’s hard to say for certain — there are so many episodes.
It’s funny, Molly Brodak asked me about this recently too, and at the time I answered “The Last Temptation of Krust,” which is from season nine, and is where Krusty becomes a George Carlin-esque standup comedian but eventually sells out and advertises for the Canyonero, a sports utility vehicle. But it really is hard to pick just one because there are so many episodes, but more than that there are so many great moments, including a lot of lit references and jokes. I can hear Homer now: “Leaves of Grass, my ass!”
Do you love the Simpsons so much that you wish you could travel back in time just to watch it with fresh eyes and fall in love all over again…?
Ha! My dream time travel love story! Recently I rewatched seasons one and two for the first time since they originally aired. I was a little worried–my memories of those seasons seemed a little embarrassing, but they were much better than I remembered! It was a little like time travel I suppose. I don’t think I would want to be ten again, though, nor would I want to be my present age somehow back in 1990. But if I did travel back, then maybe I could have watched Twin Peaks as it originally aired! Man, despite Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, 1989/1990 had some pretty awesome things going on. If I were able to time travel, I would remember to buy some bootleg Simpsons t-shirts from the Giant Public Market in Saginaw because I would love to wear those still today.
You keep bringing up Twin Peaks, which leads me to think have a tendency to watch television shows which have a recurring theme of donuts. Is this the case? Is this an illuminati conspiracy?
I do like TV shows that feature donuts! And I like to eat donuts. And I like J Dilla’s album Donuts. And I once did an art project in high school where I painted a series of donuts. I don’t think it is an illuminati conspiracy though, or if it is, I have yet to reap any benefits it. It seems like a lot of people like donuts, which makes me wonder just how large and far-reaching this illuminati is….
Vouched: We need to get to the bottom of this. Let’s start with the Krispy Kreme on Ponce – it may be Illuminati headquarters. My mind is reeling with questions so I’m just going to list them.
• What percent of the attendees of the reading on April 17th will be members of the illuminati?
• How many donuts could you consume throughout a day?
• When you read, will be sneaking in Illuminati trigger words? Dropping hints to audience members ‘in the know’?
• Would you travel through time for love? How would you go about it?
Thirty-three percent of the audience will be members of the illuminati. If I challenged myself to see how many donuts I could eat in a single day, I’d say that number would be 33. Did you know 33 is an important number in the illuminati? All of my poems are exactly 33 words long. When the New World Order is in place, we won’t need to travel through time for love. The New World Order is Love.
So pumped for our next reading, coming up on Wednesday, April 17th at the Goatfarm. Check out this sweet poster!
It will be a reading to put all readings to shame. Not one, but TWO books will be released from two Atlanta publishers. First, Johnny Carroll’s Slow Burn from Safety Third Enterprises and Gina Myers’ Hold it Down from Coconut Books! To celebrate properly we have teamed up with both Safety Third and Coconut for an evening of readings from some of Atlanta’s favorite local legends.
For more details and things, you can check out the event page.
It’s true! Issue 15 is here. And thank goodness for that. Coconut was one of the first online journals that got me stoked. Missed it:(
But it’s back with more stellarness, more POEMS . Here’s the stuff that made me throw in an extra WOW:
I have refused many genitalia including the electrical
oh mama! see these many buzzing elements
please don’t cage my energy efficient light bulbs
my love for you is not a coin operated washer/drier
A fake or deceptive orgasm. Also, a smuggler of orgasms.
An orgasm that slaps you in the face. Also, a wakeup call.
An ill-tempered orgasm that makes you pay for all your sins.
An orgasm that takes you again and again. Also, an orgasm like a ditto machine
An orgasm that treats you like toy, or something to play with when one is bored. much like a cat with a ball of yarn.
from Transcendental Critique
The word for wish is want.
Knowledge gets us what?
Not enough biscuits.
Sick dogs sniff each other out.
I build an oven over your mouth
and set the door on fire.
Grunts are still possible.
Check out the rest of the issue, including other goodness by Kory Calico, Corey Zeller, Ron Padgett, Molly Brodak, and many more.
I would let Gina Myers narrate my life. Her voice is as calming as Sigourney Weaver’s. You can hear for yourself on November 9th at our next Vouched Presents. She has lived in Saginaw, Michigan, New York City and now lives in Atlanta. All of these cities have taken up residence in her poetry. They live and breathe in her sentences, the way we live and breathe in their streets. Her collection, A Model Year, was released by Coconut books in 2009.
Vouched: Okay, let’s start with the important stuff. You’re a really big sports fan. How has that influenced your writing?
Gina: I think sports, like literature, is a form of escape for many people. Some of my earliest memories involve listening to the Detroit Tigers on the radio, trading baseball cards with my brother, and hearing my grandpa complain about Sparky Anderson. It provides an outlet or distraction from the everyday, especially when the everyday isn’t so pleasant. We constantly hear negative news reports of Michigan’s economy and crime rates, but the Tigers can give us hope. Or the Lions. Even if for years they’ve brought us misery, it’s a bonding experience that connects fans with each other. And sports has a lot of parallels to literature–the fallen heroes, the lovable losers, the possibility of redemption.
Vouched: That leads me to two questions: 1. Do you still have your baseball card collection? 2. Do you have a favorite ‘lovable loser’ from your teams?
Gina: I no longer have my baseball card collection. I’m not sure when I got rid of it but probably sometime during high school after it sat neglected in a shoebox on a shelf in my closet for years. As a kid, I loved Doug Baker, who was a complete nobody, but my brother–who is older than me–told me that he was a really great player, and he was really doing me a huge favor by trading the Doug Baker card for whatever card of mine that he coveted. More recently I was a big of Joel Zumaya, a pitcher for the Tigers, who was an amazing talent but could never get it together due to injuries.
Vouched: If you had to choose between having a peg leg or a pirate hook, which would you choose and why?
Gina: I’d go for the hook. I love walking & I’d be concerned that the peg leg would slow me down. And if I had the hook, I wouldn’t have to worry so much about safety walking through the city at night.
Vouched: A hook would certainly be very vicious. Are you dressing up for Halloween?
Gina: Right now I don’t have any plans for the night, so I haven’t thought about a costume. But if something comes up, I’ll put something together. I love Halloween but frequently miss it or under-do it each year. The day after I always think, next year I should plan better, but I never do.
Vouched: What’s your favorite thing about Halloween? Scary movies? Crazy people? Haunted Houses?
Gina: All of the above! When I was young, I always liked the Halloween episodes of TV shows like Roseanne and The Simpsons, and scary movies were a sleepover staple. I haven’t been to a haunted house since I was in high school, but I used to enjoy doing that too. I kind of like creepy things–cobwebs, cemeteries, spiders, and so on. And I like mischief too, and Halloween allows for some of that. In Michigan, we have Devil’s Night, which is on October 30th, and is a night of mischief–smashing pumpkins, egging houses, toilet papering, etc. But in more recent years it’s become more known as a night of arson, and some community organizers and church-minded people have attempted to rebrand it Angel’s Night.
Vouched: I’m a big fan of the Simpson’s Halloween episodes too! Have you considered bringing Devil’s Night to Atlanta? It sounds like April Fools Day covered in darkness. April Fool’s day is a personal favorite of mine. I love me some pranks.
Gina: I hadn’t considered what Devil’s Night in Atlanta would be like, but it seems like it would be much warmer here, which could encourage a lot of people to be out causing mischief. I have an uncle who was born on April Fool’s Day, and his name is Mike Myers, which brings us back to Halloween…
Vouched: That’s stupendous! I bet his costume just kind of decides itself. I had a friend in high school named Michael Bolton, but he lived up to the name in the ‘Office Space’ sense a little bit more than the ‘Long-haired man whose voice makes 90’s moms swoon” sense. Speaking of, who do you think would win in a fist fight: Yanni or Michael Bolton?
Gina: Michael Bolton. Gut instinct.
Vouched: How would you go about persuading someone into attending our reading on November 9th?
Gina: It will be a great escape from the everyday. Plus there will be goats!