Review of The Trouble With New England Girls by Amy Miller 

 

Concrete Wolf Louis Award Series, 2018

 

“What would I do here?” So begins “Westfield, Massachusetts,” the opening poem in Amy Miller’s new book, The Trouble With New England Girls. “Here” is a “bristle-backed town,” a “slasher-movie paradise,” a place that would “set me down in a sleepy house / with the front porch falling in.” Miller’s book revisits disquieting territory, revealing the tension between memory and belief.

 

In the title poem, “The Trouble With New England Girls,” Miller paints a portrait of who she might have been had she stayed in Westfield: 

 

Sometimes they get pregnant

and drive to New Jersey

and sometimes

they come back

married and quiet,

or quiet and alone.

 

These girls live under “the moon / with its third-degree light / pounding the truth / right out of them.” That judgmental moon reflects the unforgiving conditions these girls endure, girls who “think the moon rises / and sets.”

 

The father in this book, a parent whose moods rule the family table, appears in “Sunnyvale:” “we knew to pass the plates / without a sound.” In a later poem, “Resistors,” the father tries to reach out to “his daughter / striped in a thrift-store skirt / and punk shoes:” 

 

 …this was more 

like the keening barrel rolls

of his cropdusting days.

 

The gulf between father and daughter seems almost too wide to cross, at least with mere conversation; the father finds solace in the garage, where he’d “wrestle metal for hours.” In “Channellock Pliers,” he gives his daughter a tool set: “the level / and awl and putty knife / and wire cutters and tin snips.” After assessing each tool, the speaker chooses a pair of pliers and slips them under her pillow, “their heft just right / for splitting a skull / in a blind swing / out of startled sleep.” She never tells her father how she uses his gift – as a potential weapon, a way to protect herself against an intruder. This use of the tool for something other than its intended purpose seems to illustrate an aspect of the relationship between father and daughter – not exactly a misunderstanding, but a subtle, poignant reminder of the tender and perilous world both inhabit.

 

A series of untitled poems, originally written for the August Poetry Postcard Fest, alternates with poems titled “The Grief as…”. Written mostly in the second person, these seventeen poems create an elusive, intensely private exchange. The lines “If you know / you’re drowning” from “[If you fall into the rapids]” seem answered in “We all belong / to someone. Someone / may be missing you. This / may also be a test” from “The Grief as the Warning Siren for Hosler Dam.” 

 

In “[Fire stole the summer and smoke],” the transformation of a landscape through fire yields to the relief of “rain – washed blue, bright cloud.” Similarly, in “The Grief as the Theory of Parallel Universes,” opposing forces weave together: 

 

            You have taken this drive before.

            But the roadmarks aren’t

            what you remember…You

            are the constant, but even

            your memory remakes itself.

 

As the fire remakes the land, the speaker’s memory shifts, disturbing her sense of reality. The more she tries to make sense of it, the more it slips away, until finally all she can confirm is “you were stopped there, / the engine out of breath. / Today you’re still moving.”

 

In “Wolf OR-7 Passes the Site Where a Bounty Hunter Killed Oregon’s Last Known Wolf in 1946,” Miller takes us to the spot where Oregon’s last known wolf was killed:

 

            The air was moved, and air

            has memory. The things 

            it hears: a bullet

            shattering, a bone’s bark

            riven.

 

According to transmissions from its radio collar, OR-7, a male wolf reintroduced as part of an effort to repopulate wolves in the Pacific Northwest, did pass near that spot, a fact that seems tailor-made for myth-making, and poetry.

 

Moving deftly from outer to inner landscapes and back, Amy Miller probes beneath the surface of our current reality, bringing up equal parts dark and bright. The Trouble With New England Girls teaches us that duality, however uncomfortable, is fertile territory.

 

Amy Miller has had a long career as an editor and print-production manager at several magazines, book publishers, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Her chapbooks include I Am on a River and Cannot Answer (BOAAT Press) and Rough House (White Knuckle Press). Her poetry and nonfiction appear in Gulf Coast, Nimrod, Rattle, and many others. She is won the Cultural Center of Cape Cod National Poetry Competition, judged by Tony Hoagland, the Jack Grapes Poetry Prize from Cultural Weekly, The Whiskey Island Prize, the Kay Snow Award, and the Earl Weaver Baseball Writing Award.

 

The Trouble With New England Girls is available from Concrete Wolf Press.

Tin Coyote

by

Janice D. Rubin

January 23, 2020

Reviewed by

Erica Goss

This review first appeared in the November 4, 2019 issue of Sticks & Stones.

In Tin Coyote, Janice D. Rubin’s latest poetry collection, the author explores what it means to love a place with the intensity usually reserved for humans. Starting in Canada, where her parents met, Rubin guides us through Washington and into her home state of Oregon, with side trips to Spain, France, Greece, and beyond. Along the way, she encounters odd characters and random acquaintances—i.e., “The woman in the street / could be Simone de Beauvoir” (“Reflection on Bizinsky’s Hotel de Sens, Paris”) and the “British expatriates, gone native” she meets above the Aegean Sea (“Ferry from Brindisi to Corfu.”) Throughout the book, love, heartbreak and loss intertwine with the natural world.
 
The book opens with “Chrome Yellow #5,” a poem in which a couple’s fragile relationship fills the space between them as they hike along a river. The line “Your painting of Heceta Head Beach is still on my wall” evokes elegy; there was hope, once, “for the waves / to transport us beyond conflict.” That mood returns in “Wenatchee, WA:” 
 
            Sunflowers through the open window
            tomorrow you are leaving…
 
            Everything is gone, closeness, intimacy,
            something we had just begun
            to negotiate.
 
“Along the Siuslaw River” describes the landscape of western Oregon, with its ceaseless rain, old-growth forests, and little towns left bereft by the decline of the timber industry. Rubin sketches the area near the town of Mapleton, population 918:
 
            Old mill closed, house on stilts.
            There was a time when cutting trees knew no limit.
            Mills quiet now, wood dryer pyramid shaped
            weather beaten, left standing.
 
Many of these poems contain detailed descriptions similar to photo-realism in visual art. For example, “Canadians in San Francisco” shows us a photograph of Rubin’s parents on their honeymoon:
 
            The film Pathfinder is on a movie marquee
            in the background of the photo.
 
In spite of the couple’s obvious happiness—“The sidewalk photographer knew / they were newlyweds”—Rubin supplies a detail not apparent in the photograph: “They don’t show affection in public / they were Canadians.” This abrupt statement, which appears at the end of what seems to be a fond recollection, doesn’t so much wrap the poem up as tilt the memory the photograph triggered into new territory.
 
As in “Canadians in San Francisco,” many of the poems in Tin Coyote don’t end definitively. Some stop at a wry observation, as in “Spiritual Practice on a Limited Income” (“They rarely leave a tip”) or “Career Potential Unleashed” (“I am the woman I warned myself about”). Others leave us in the middle of the action, as in “Bike Rider:” 
 
            Red-lipped children
            run in the street
            alongside me.
 
This technique favors reading the book in one long session. The poems flow together deliberately; taken all at once, they create an immersive experience for the reader. 
 
“Elegy for a Writer,” the book’s next-to-last poem, evokes the spirit of a “handsome, beautiful man, // gay, black and flamboyant” who “didn’t want anyone to know you were dying.” It’s a moving portrait of a dear friend that doesn’t leave out the misfortune:
 
            What happened in Seattle…
 
            You suffered at least one breakdown.
 
Remembering his “colorful stories…sent to obscure literary journals,” Rubin brings her friend to life, honoring a man who meant much to her and “pen pals” from “all over the world.”
 
Memory and sensation dwell here, not in any abstract way, but as deeply held facts of life. In Tin Coyote, Oregon is both an emotional and physical location, a place whose stunning scenery suffers, as the heart suffers, damage and loss. Through it all, however, as in these lines from “Light Emerging Across Darkness,” “the path of hope / is never extinguished.”
 
Janice D. Rubin is a counselor and educator. Her poems have been published in the Austin International Poetry Festival Anthology, Tiger’s Eye Poetry Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Arabesque Journal, and others. She was nominated for a Pushcart Poetry Prize in 2008. She is the author of Transcending Damnation Creek & Other Poems (Flutter Press 2010). She currently teaches at Lane Community College.
 
 
Tin Coyote is available from Amazon.

 

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