Adrian Blevins – Yeah, She’s Happy Saying This!

Ars Poetica

She was not blissful in that garden. Not
blissful harvesting it.  Not blissful not.
She was not blissful, not inseminated,
and couldn’t stand getting vast. She
didn’t like the godforsaken vaccinations:
Christ how those children wept! She
didn’t like it when school was cancelled,
and she liked it even less when it was
not. The very best was just before she went
to sleep, where it doesn’t matter who you
are. That’s when she’d lie like an old dog
in a ditch, and, yeah, she’s happy saying this.

Adrian Blevins (1964 -) from Bloodline, Hollyridge Press, 2012

How many mothers have felt this but never whispered a word?  The strange yes/no of so much of a common day. I don’t know for sure but I have a hunch this writer might not be alone. But true or not how can I not like a poet who can end a poem saying: yeah, she’s happy saying this. Ouch. A trademark of American poet, Adrian Blevins: her fierce unflinching honesty.  Her words, her poems are not for the faint-hearted. She might offend you. But I think her poems are so worth the risk to read!

How can I not be mesmerized by a poet who has a rollicking cadence like a Ferris wheel in the mouth. And who has a mouth with musics tough enough to take paint off a car. A poet who can pen lines like this:

we are each of us born so holy and everlastingly molested ( from November Neurosis);

because we are to glitter like lilacs under lace
(from Weaning Electra);

Do not cross this burning world hollow and looted, he always said. Not hollow
        and looted, he would say. God darlin’ God darlin’ God Darlin’ no ( from Weaning Electra); and:

I want to devour everything transformed by my distance
       into yet another elegy, since what I really don’t get

is what made Boone think the trouble and the hunger would stop
       when he got his rifle and bent into the snarl and shot (from Live From The Homesick Jamboree).

Blevins, a teacher at Colby College, Maine, has published two chapbooks and two books of poetry including her latest, Live From The Homesick Jamboree, in 2009. That book includes a poem called How to Cook a Wolf published in 2012 in The Open Door 100 Poems 100 Years of Poetry Magazine . It’s impressive company she keeps there with the likes of Eliot, Yeats, Pound and Auden!

Her catalogue of losses and loves, a failed marriage, her milk-curdling descriptions of being a mother, are such fierce treasures that burn to touch. The way she jams her hands, our hands, into the wounds, and remembers so we might remember we are still alive. This woman is a hot-plate, a bad date, a full meal and a rough night never to forget. She is a mother and a wife and her hands – the ones I imagine that are hers in her poems as she holds the men she loves, and her babies as she nurses – also write with a knife. She cuts and she cuts and is cut. We read from our blood, her blood – the stories that made us, unmake us.

It’s hard not to see the influence of Tony Hoagland and Sharon Olds in these poems but they are utterly hers. She has Olds’ courage to offer shocking intimacies without any prettifying and Hoagland’s ability to challenge in startling ways our easy cultural assumptions – in her case especially those about women. But unlike Hoagland her anger, especially at the roles women have been asked to play in Southern culture, is not balanced with wry humour. It stands alone –a weapon to the throat.

You can hear and see it howl in How To Drown a Wolf  (retitled and slightly edited from the version published in  The Open Door anthology).

If your mother’s like mine wanting you honeyed and blithe

                   you’ll get cooked by getting evicted  

since the mothers can teach with a dustpan the tons of modes of tossing.
And the fathers will lift your eyes too-early-too-open:  
                   the fathers can creep up on anything when it’s still too wet
to cloister with their weeping and strand you like a seed
or drown at the carnivals with the can-do caroling  
                   and storefronts and foodstuffs and annulments and Scotch
and off-handed fucking and walking out and moving on
until they’re cooking the drift of you wanting a whole river up in you  
                   and got pretty much the gist
of you needing your crannies hot with a good man’s body-silt
until your head is stuffed with a pining for diapers
                   and the most minuscule spoons made mostly of silver
and Ajax too and Minwax Oh
in this the dumbstruck story of the American female
                   as a cut of terracotta and some kindling in a dress
while howling at the marrow of the marrow of the bone.
from  Live From The Homesick Jamboree, WesleyanUniversity Press, 2009

Although it is likely that Blevins doesn’t know the work of Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, some of her poems feel like echoes of Crozier’s, especially Crozier’s poem Fear of Snakes. The small town boys in that poem would recognize the small town boys in Blevins’. And the men in Hoagland’s poem Why the Young Men Are So Ugly would recognize the rednecks in Blevins poem Country Song. And her poem Life in Art feels right at home with Olds’ poem Waste Sonata.

Bevins poems are stalkers. They don’t let you out of their sight. But one in particular really struck me. It stands out in both form and content from her other poems. It won’t let me out of its sight. It captures so hauntingly and tragically how we have turned feminine beauty into a commodity, and how some girls in our culture respond by seeing their beauty as a liability and try to hide it. And she does it by turning beautiful into a noun – my slick beautiful.  A thing. And the added horror is that we are witness to its murder, to its drowning.


Back when my head like an egg in a nest
was vowel-keen and dawdling, I shed my slick beautiful
and put it in a basket and laid it barefaced at the river
among the taxing rocks. My beautiful was all hush
and glitter. It was too moist to grasp. My beautiful
had no tongue with which to lick – no discernable
wallowing gnaw. It was really a breed of destruction
like a nick in a knife. It was a notch in the works
or a wound like a bell in a fat iron mess. My beautiful
was a drink too sopping to haul up and swig!
Therefore with the trees watching and the beavers abiding
I tossed my beautiful down at the waterway against
the screwball rocks. Even then there was no hum.
My beautiful was never ill-bred enough, no matter what
you say. If you want my blue yes everlasting, try my
she, instead. Try the why not of my low down,
Sugar, my windswept and wrecked.

from Live From The Homesick Jamboree

The shock her words are. Yes, knives and also cattle prods. Like these ones that leave marks, real ones, from her poem The Famous Men Who Made Me. The explicit sexual vernacular in this poem is not for all sensibilities but the truth in it goes far beyond its shock value I think. The utter surprise of the poem’s third line in the excerpt below is created with such mastery. As is the provocative last stanza.

It makes me uncomfortable even quoting an excerpt of the poem here but I remember Canadian poet, Patrick Lane at a workshop years ago encouraging , no admonishing, us to not sidestep the tough stuff when it appears in our poems. If we do it is a betrayal of our poem, he said. Here is the excerpt:

……………………………………………. Whenever
the man I am sucking
is about to come, I think of male accomplishment and lechery
              and loneliness

as if I’m sitting on a bar stool and all around me  everyone is
from wanting to be noticed and loved and kissed and held and

which is just wishing for wishing’s own senseless sake, which is
         just wishing
for everything we think our fathers meant for us  to know we
         would never get.

from The Brass Girl Brouhaha, Ausable Press,, 2003

The cynicism in this poem feels almost unbearable to me. But I recognize it. Blevins does not offer bromides or easy redemption. But she can shock me into seeing the world below its surfaces. She can make me see my own need to be noticed, to be praised, my own loneliness. Not easy this seeing. But it is necessary and is what the best poetry does. It’s what Blevins’ poetry does.


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