Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dirty Looks – Cheryl Follon

Cheryl Follon fills her new poetry collection, Dirty Looks, with anonymous monologues in a variety of voices. Many are inflected by a particular culture, many have to do with love and sex, none are moany, preachy, navel-gazing or hand-wringing (all things that will kill a poem). The ultimate result: pretty good.

Modest praise can sometimes be more damning than harsh criticism, and this isn’t meant to be. Damning, that is. It is, however, modest praise, akin to Ford Prefect’s edited characterization of the Earth as “mostly harmless”, or a fellow writing teacher’s review from a student: “slightly better than some other teachers.”

The poems that didn’t get off the ground simply lacked impact, something memorable or unique, some purpose, yet remained intellectually interesting. But instead of focusing on those, I’ll include two I quite liked.

Curse Poems


O silent queen of the long afternoon,
     the silver slice, the pretty cake,
          the tinkling china teacups
         Where’d you get those liver spots
     and those hairs above your lip?
Whoever thought you’d get so old so soon?

That’s not some jive record you’re hearing.
     They’re carving out your coffin
          from a load of dirty boards
         found on Pontchartrain’s shores.
    They’ve laid them on the lawn;
the nails are picked, the fast saw’s moving.
This is out of character for the collection because it’s not about love and/or sex, but the images really stick with me. I love the creepy feeling of other people building your coffin, and building it too quickly. The haunting sound of your own coffin being built by anonymous people you can’t stop is effective; I love the image, too, that the nails are already chosen, and merely have yet to be driven in.

Really Drunk in Matassa’a Bar

Sweetness, I’ll give you something to tell her –
And straight from the hip.
Tell her she’s a two-faced –

no, no – let’s have that rephrased –
a useless Quasimodo-like –
wait a minute the words are on my tongue.


Tell her I’ve had my hair all cut
and it suits my face.
It looks like the real thing.

Tell her I’ve got a new wardrobe
and no one’s surprised.
Tell her I’ve matched it all with pricy boots.

Tell her I’ve shed off those extra pounds;
or, in fact – no, no –
tell her I’ve put a whole load on.

Tell her I’m always dining out
and you’ve heard stories
I’m rolling in at dawn and I’m laughing.
This is more typical of the monologue poems that Follon likes, but it’s more casual in register than most. Perhaps that’s why so much character can come through. I can imagine this conversation perfectly. The phrasing sounds realistic but also poetic. Of course, the irony and the meaning beyond the text, are crucial to the poem, and my favorite thing about it.

Another I won’t retype here is “Cute Little Rooster”. The poem is intriguing: it is spoken to a rooster who is dressed up, paraded around, used for sex and then killed and eaten. It brings out wonderfully uncomfortable connotations of ancient ritual, Rabelaisian carnival and old folk song. The only problem is that like with so many poems, writing in free verse makes the language itself uninteresting. A+ for ideas and content; C+ for style.

Expect more reviews soon – I have just received more books in the mail.

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