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13. Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants, Alison Maloney

Blah. I was excited about this and it turned into a hate-read. It is short and not detailed enough for me, I felt I learned more from reading several memoirs last year of cooks and ladies' maids, many of which were quoted or referenced in this book. Probably pretty handy if you want generic detail and a light read, perhaps better if you use it just to find names of additional memoirs to read.

14. Mayakovsky's Revolver, Matthew Dickman

I've had the twin Portland poets Matthew and Michael Dickman on my radar since reading a profile of them in an old New Yorker. Not only are they the Poet Twins of Lents (aka Felony Flats), published to heck and back, they portrayed the twin pre-cogs in Minority Report. What a strange world.

Anyway! Mayakovsky's Revolver was interesting, but not ultimately a volume of poetry that made me go YES, not in the way, for example, I did earlier this year with Brenda Shaughnessy, or even with Anne Carson. I frequently finished Dickman's poems feeling like I had exited a poem without really getting anything, or maybe there wasn't much to get. But not always. The section of poems about his (other) dead brother were good, and I loved Heaven (just us standing here together, asking each other/if we remember anything, what we loved, what loved us, who/yelled our names first?), I loved Birds of Paradise, and some of the poems in the Elegy to a Goldfish section were lovely. There are lots of references to the Hawthorne Bridge and other bits of Portland, which was fun, but there are also lots of scenes that make me think this guy and his brother might actually be kind of...dicks? Yikes. They kill a goldfish and torture their sister with it, they torture some poor kid behind the 7-11, a meditation on making a sick joke about a pedophile, other random crap that just made me think, why am I getting these painful insights into your life and why do I not particularly like you afterwards? Plenty of poets write about sick painful stuff and don't make it pretty; am I expecting this poet to make it pretty? I guess I'm expecting it to make sense, and not just act as off-color background, which is the impression I got here. The final longer poem On Earth was a nice bookend to the opening poem Heaven, and together those two were perhaps my favorites. On earth/survival is built out of luck and treatment centers he writes, the entire poem a meditation about how survival depends on a kind of vast chain of things surviving, his family, his mother taking the same exit to Lloyd Center to work, the woman he loves has to be there, his twin has to survive cancer because he can never be sick,/not if I want to stay on earth. Last week I was a bit obsessed with the idea of trying to write a poem that wasn't a poem, that rejected parallels and imagery and metaphor, something that cannot be recited in a portentious pretentious poetry reciting voice. There were times when I thought Dickman achieved that, his poems can be read in a normal voice and still achieve beauty, and not in that old-fashioned William Stafford way. Sometimes that was enough, but overall I think he is just an okay poet, with occasional brilliance.


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