Janice Brabaw’s new book is unique. I say this, because she has managed to blend the thoughtful with the emotional in a way that is not only poetic, but artfully so. Almost immediately one can tell that Janice is not just writing from an honest place, but is using sound conventions to convey meaning. In a world of often times talented, but scattershot poetry, this is a refreshing change. Her common themes of insecurity, doubt, self-deprecation, and ultimately small hopes are crafted in such a way that instead of feeling pity for the author, the reader feels empathy. In my estimation evincing empathy might be the highest goal of any writer. Her poems do this through a careful, measured sense of rhythm, word usage, and innate skill. A prime example is her poem, “off”:
I wake up with yesterday in my mouth
and thus begins the list of failures and faults.
I should've brushed my teeth instead
of falling asleep on the couch watching cartoons.
I should learn to hide my phone from myself --
No more insecure dialing on a Sunday night.
And while I'm at it, I should simply grow up
and stop being the fucked up girl that I am.
Not sure why I hate myself today --
Perhaps nothing a shower and slap can't help.
My orientation is misaligned
with your magnetic north.
I hate moments when I am today and yesterday
at once. I see only this in my tealeaves.
I am at the bottom of an endless, dry well.
I look up and there is just one way to go.
This is where I put myself
once again, once again.
But yet I blame it on a vertigo, a push,
not a careless and practiced fall
not my unsteady footing, or my propensity
to give in to gravity when challenged.
I like this poem, because I know this woman. I have met her in my life and seen the hurt, tenderness, and hope in her eyes, sitting in a café, the subway, on a park bench. There is universality to the self-deprecation and a fine sense of tooled introspection to the verse. Almost all of the poems share this commonality and thus take the reader through her mind one emotion at a time. To a large extent, it is very satisfying.
However, if the collection has any flaws, it is that we immediately get to know the poet within the first ten pages. After that we are listening to roughly the same story, just set in different scenarios. Although never trite, boring, or pedantic, the collection does have a sameness that could have been spiced with a few poems about the defiant victories we want to see in any anti-hero. In fact, it needs the minor victories we crave to re-affirm our own hopes. Also, the poems tend to be on the long side. (the above quoted is one of the shortest) So, if you plan on reading one poem at a time, sitting, pondering, and coming back tomorrow for more, you are perfectly suited to this accomplished collection. But, if you are like me, and want to read the whole book straight through, you might be there for a while. Yet, that is just a matter of reading style, not quality.
The quality of this work is undeniable. Brabaw is a talented writer and it is refreshing to see some truly thoughtful, palpable poetics out there. Beyond the mere cathartic, rough-and-tumble poetry of the post-Beats, this book is an uncomfortable, yet endearing companion. A keeper.
Opinion: Good Read
-review by GJ