Between the Crackups

Between the Crackups - Rebecca Lehmann

The poem that opens this collection, "A Hundred Words For Loser", ensures that we are under no illusion regarding Rebecca Lehmann's unpoetic take on the sacrosanct – or indeed on anything else.


... A man

tells a bible story about a town filled

with prostitutes and a father who sleeps

with his two daughters.


Then we have "Letters To A Shithead Friend". Some of these poems are so far from traditional poetry and so far too from from the poetasting "poems" of the incestuous "poets" writing only for each other in many of the little magazines that fill the shelves of university libraries, that they might once again, like the poets of the past, appeal to the masses if the masses would only read them.


Take "The Youngest Girls In Memphis" for example, which finishes:


... We never expect them

to erupt like angered volcanoes,

their vomit and loose teeth pooling

on our tabletops. This is a surprise

every time; this is the event horizon.


Or "The Factory, An Elegy In Six Parts", which begins:


The managers are giving silver dollars to our children,

are telling them that if they are good, they can have our jobs

once we have died.


Or "Think Georgia, Gorgeous" (I am drawing attention to some of the ones I liked best):


We take our bearings from the headlights

flashing through the guardrails. Nashville,

and a billboard reads, Good little tits!


Or "Dear Cousin" which finishes:


Morning has broken is a hymnal line that means

two or more things. I realize this as I'm singing it,

the wafer crumbs still stuck inside my mouth.


Some of the poems paint a surrealistic picture, successfully – not so easy for a poet, who risks becoming ridiculous. This is "Particulate Matter IV":


A man in a field holds a folding chair.

His hair is made of light.

I realize I'm naked. He unfolds the chair and

sits down. When he opens his mouth

horse flies fall out like a cataract.

They form the shape of a word: HEY


Rebecca Lehmann is an academic, and I have to say (though it goes against the grain) that most of the time this does not show in her writing (by which I mean it does not mar it), but occasionally she cannot help the self-conscious aside like this one which, in my view, spoils what had been up to that point an excellent poem.


Forgive the intrusion of a metaphor; I've been away a long time.


And then there are the memories of schooldays which always seem to pepper the conversation of (young) American women and here, agonising over them, add authenticity. For instance:


like the grown man who apologized for calling

me a finger-fuck slut when we were both thirteen


And :


The boy who moved to my town from California in sixth grade

made me a pair of earrings out of fishing wire and beads.

I threw them in the school trashcan at the end of the day,

and then years later felt horrible about it.


Is this nature, or is it artifice, I wonder.


And then, oddly, there is a series of references to bruises on her legs. I find this intriguing, and wonder once again if it is nature or artifice.


I had my legs open [...]

I never told anyone the bruise you made




... the bruise

on the leg like an angered owl



The diagonal line of bruises on the back

of my left thigh reveals my humanity.




The bruises on my legs, desire them.


Let me just say that this is a collection that improves with a second reading. (You would never notice those bruises first time round, or at least not till the third or fourth.) Perhaps she no longer shocks, but you begin to pick out the gems among the poems and mark the ones you want to read a third and fourth time. And perhaps add to your own private collection of art trouvée. Like the utterly original poem entitled "Pasture": I would need to quote the whole thing. You must buy the book and read it for yourself.