When I shared Matthew Olzmann’s “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem” with my students, they laughed and sighed. Did you expect laughed and cried? I won’t lie, they didn’t cry. That was me.
Published in issue #31 of Rattle (Summer 2009), an issue edited by Toi Derricotte and Terrance Hayes, Olzmann’s poem provides a fabulous exemplar for discussing voice, tone, structure – particularly at the sentence level, pacing, revealing details, and the unexpected. And it’s flat out delightful. Listen to the opening lines:
Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
If you can see your students nodding or smiling, share this link with them, or better yet, share it with a teacher who will use it in class – a new spin on the Valentine assignment, perhaps. If you like his work, check out “Regret” from Rattle issue #25 (Summer 2006). If the form of "Regret" intrigues you or your students, also read "from" by A. Van Jordan, one of three poems of his posted on the Reading Between A and B web site.
The poetic currents featured at Poetry River include poems of work and economic struggle. Although told through the voice of fictional speaker, Bead, the story that poet Anne-Marie Oomen tells in un-coded woman (Milkweed, 2006) was inspired by women with whom she stood shoulder-to-shoulder at a canning factory working third shift.
Bead’s story is one of survival, struggle, and ultimately, strength. In “I Have Taken the Line,” readers meet her bruised in her battered truck, sharing a smoke with the hitchhiker with whom she’ll seek shelter near the shores of Lake Michigan: Barn.
Already, we sense the grit that fueled her escape from an abusive home and will pull her through:
I drive like a flood busting open sluice
gates, like my whole past wants me
drowned but I’m not going down.
Oomen describes Bead as “a little rebellious and smart-ass,…with a tender side.” Throughout the collection’s absorbing narrative, we see her meet life’s rough edges unflinchingly whether she has a plan or is still weighing her options.
Imagery, dialect, and metaphor surprise too with battered pickup, gutting table, buckshot-pocked door, charred burgers, “waves big as horses’ asses,” and hunger that “burns / like old tires can’t get put out.” The deft music of Oomen’s sonic craft sings across the pages like a well-cast line arcing across wide water.
Bead’s life is one lived as close to glimpses of nature’s quiet wisdom as to the pain people inflict on one another. Consider this section of “Light Has Been Extinguished” quoted in a 2007 interview with Oomen published in Madison, Wisconsin’s The Daily Page:
I come back to the dark place,
to the scrub acres where the cabin sits,
where these cloudy nights work on me.
You know, old-timers say it’s best
to look at a sky without stars--
it will show you what you are
without any light at all.
The poem titles are based on codes from the International Code of Signals, a stylistic trait that provides another way into the collection for readers drawn to water - and another way to link poems to the curriculum. This innovative organizational structure is also another reason that un-coded woman serves as a multifaceted resource for young poets, whether studying persona poems, narrative arc, voice, or structure.
Wendy - poet-librarian, teacher, writing mentor. Read more on about.
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