Sunday, October 5, 2008

Evie Christie's "Gutted"

Evie Christie's Gutted is a wildly uneven effort, and for a first book of poetry, there's nothing wrong with that. She takes chances with emotional rawness, even with unprocessed feelings at the expense of giving a voice to those she jabs. But powerful expression doesn't have to be "objective" and fair, and (especially) as a corrective to our (still) contemporary preoccupation with the suspicion of final statement and confident disclosure, the interactions have worth whatever their fine-tuned accuracy.

The chief negative in the book is a succumbing to the worst tendency in confessional writing, which is not the often commented upon "narcissistic outpouring", but the closed-off communication. With poems "An Honest Woman", "If Things Had Been Different", "Hearing From Jennifer", "Porn Stars and Pharmaceuticals", and "I Found this Eviction Notice", I felt as one often does when entering a room and inadvertently overhearing a heated intimate conversation between two people, or rather one which is dominated by a single person on a cell phone. It's not a feeling of discomfort, which Christie is right in wanting us to enter into as well, but that the one who overhears isn't pulled along no matter how edgy it is. To be short, the personal doesn't become the universal. Some may argue that they can get into it because they "relate" to it, but this is conflating emotion and common backgrounds with the artful shaping of that same subject matter.

But the risk of ellipticity is offset and, at times, gloriously trumped by quick and wise realizations such as the wonderful metaphor closing off "There is a Place in Trois Rivieres": "and I'd like one more/drink, maybe something with a sword and a cherry."

Another strength of Christie is her merciless close-ups of bored suburban housewives: "and in the morning hair down from awesome heights/(girded sternly by bobby pins and banana clips)." Too many poets gloss over specifics, often (I feel) because they don't have any direct experience of the matter at hand, and so toss out a phrase as part of a bleached tapestry. Thankfully, Christie sticks with those specifics. I'll take (at times) confused particulars over a smug game of no-loss six-thousand-ambiguities any day.

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