Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women

It was in September I totally fucked with chronology. I thought memoirs were written by property owners. I was about to fall in love with younger men. When I went back to work at my former employer, offices had been established inside of elevators, and I was asked by my boss “Well do you want to go to the dinner because that would make it 102? Too many, don’t you think?” His daughter was dressed as a witch. I taught her to say Maximus.

In auditoriums, cheerleaders practiced their dances, different squads in different colors with different choreography dancing to the same song. Outside, climate change had caused the environment to become a disaster movie called “Ice Age.” This meant if you stepped off the veranda you would be engulfed by an icy, hard-driving flood, and there would be a soundtrack and voiceover for this. (“Ma Vie en Bling: A Memoir”)

I’ve been struck by Kansas poet and visual artist Anne Boyer’s remarkable collection of prose poems, Garments Against Women (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2015). Her second full-length poetry collection, Garments Against Women follows The Romance of Happy Workers (Coffee House Press, 2008) and numerous chapbooks, including Anne Boyer’s Good Apocalypse (Effing Press, 2006), Selected Dreams with a Note on Phrenology (dusie, 2007), The 2000s (2009), My Common Heart (2011) and A Form of Sabotage (2013), as well as a book of conceptual work, Art is War (Mitzvah, Lawrence, 2008). Organized in four groupings, each containing a small handful of poems, the pieces in Garments Against Women are incredibly compact, and move through a series and sequence of thoughtfully compact and restless meditations on boredom, philosophy, sewing, reading and innocence (real and otherwise): “What is the difference between happiness and pornography? I mean what is the difference between literature and photography?” she writes, as part of the extended sequence “The Innocent Question.” There are repeated references within the collection of a writer who isn’t writing, whether through choice or circumstance: “Having given up literature, it was easy to become fixed on the idea of a single shirt, one with two pieces, no facings, not even set in sleeves.” (“Sewing”). When I originally read her “Not Writing,” I had presumed I was reading the work of an older, and far more established writer; suggesting a wisdom gained through hard-won experience, resulting even in a bit of wear. As the poem opens:

When I am not writing I am not writing a novel called 1994 about a young woman in an office park in a provincial town who has a job cutting and pasting time. I am not writing a novel called Nero about the world’s richest art star in space. I am not writing a book called Kansas City Spleen. I am not writing a sequel to Kansas City Spleen called Bitch’s Maldoror. I am not writing a book of political philosophy called Questions for Poets. I am not writing a scandalous memoir. I am not writing a pathetic memoir. I am not writing a memoir about poetry or love. I am not writing a memoir about poverty, debt collection, or bankruptcy. I am not writing about family court. I am not writing a memoir because memoirs are for property owners and not writing a memoir about prohibition of memoirs.

When I am not writing a memoir I am also not writing any kind of poetry, not prose poems contemporary or otherwise, not poems made of fragments, not tightened and compressed poems, not loosened and conversational poems, not conceptual poems, not virtuosic poems employing many different types of euphonious devices, not poems with epiphanies and not poems without, not documentary poems about recent political moments, not poems heavy with allusions to critical theory and popular song.

Some of this wear can even be seen in her 2006 interview with Kate Greenstreet: “I stopped writing poetry for years. / I expected nothing from poetry. / I wrote expecting nothing. / I tried for nothing. I wrote a book. / I still expected nothing.” What is it that wears her down, and what is it that continually brings her back around?

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