Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Everything Must Go – Rosie Garland

Rosie Garland takes on an interesting and potentially rich topic in Everything Must Go, which follows her battle with cancer.  I expected some touching moments or profound truths, but ultimately I was left feeling cold.  Garland’s focus throughout the thirty-three poems in the book is on process and her body.  These, I assume, were the most interesting or moving parts of the ordeal for her, and I have no right to tell her what she should be interested in or moved by, but as the poems ticked past I found myself uninvolved.  It was like reading a medical chart expressed in simile and personification.  I recently had a friend die of cancer (Garland did not die, by the way), and the most significant parts of his last days were based in connection: other people, memories, what he was leaving behind, my own children coming to understand what was happening, the struggle to finish what he had started before he succumbed.  All these were strangely absent from Garland’s work.  Thirty-three poems later I have no idea who Rosie Garland is, what she loves, what her story is.  I know only the indignity of her medical processes and the color of the waiting room carpet.

Her poetry itself is skillful, but again rarely has that magic effect of a profound truth, perfectly expressed, the way great poetry does.  I rarely felt surprised.  Exceptions were occasional turns of phrase and image: when she describes “the man who watched his wife led away: her birdlike, crumpled steps, his face distorted, his eyes punched red.”  Another memorable poem is a letter to her hair, and how her expectation of losing it suddenly is belied by the fact of it lingering to the point of annoyance.

It is not that the words are poorly assembled, though the poetry is entirely prose, and lacks any sound devices or rhythm.  I find myself reminded of a favorite author of mine, Jeanette Winterson, and her novel Written on the Body, which also concerns cancer.  Garland’s poetry is similar to Winterson’s prose, but this highlights what Garland’s work lacks—character, relationships, and a greater emotional depth than the constant lingering on physical change and medical detail.

No comments:

Post a Comment