"The way/ we believed it was all in service of such seriousness"
Let three poems by Katie Berta startle you out of your doldrums this morning.
Katie Berta, whose retribution forthcoming is forthcoming from Ohio University Press, has three delicious poems up at Identity Theory, and I’m thinking of you and your poetry nutrition when I ask you to read them. Consider these lines, from “A MAGAZINE ARTICLE IS TRYING TO CONVINCE ME THAT THE BAGS UNDER MY EYES EQUAL CELL DEATH,”:
I know enough about academia to know that I’d like to wear my opposition to it on my face. Diane Seuss says eyeliner is war. She acknowledges the middle of the country. At a conference, the other writers keep saying the word “hillbilly” which I honestly think of as a slur. Debating whether the poor are stupid or just gullible. Debating whether they can be saved…
Berta’s ability to cut to the quick while also intellectually undermining her own speaker is poignant and funny, here. Funny is good, because when I think about some things, I need to laugh. For instance: How I long to be taken seriously in academia, and how that longing can strike me as absurd when I’m able, even for the brevity of a poem, to understand how fruitless academic seriousness can be.
For instance: If it’s ludicrous that eyeliner can be symbolic, it’s still true that it can be symbolic, and sometimes, symbols are all we have. Time to quote a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, now. But hey, at least this prize-winning poet “acknowledges” the middle of the country, and isn’t that lack of acknowledgment, that lack of being seen, what really smarted about the whole Hillbilly Elegy debacle, a debacle that catapulted someone really clever at using stereotypes to rally deep-seated hurt into further divisiveness, division like toxic jet fuel, the fuel needed to launch this someone into yet more power? Don’t even check out Vance’s Twitter; don’t do it.
I need to breathe. Katie’s poems are breathless in this way, like retribution should be: prolonged shouts.
I used these this morning and felt pretty good about myself. Why? Well, I felt as if I were doing something kind for myself— that part is good. But can I also admit that I also felt like I was doing something I “should” be doing? That part, not so good. It’s that “should” Berta undercuts, and I thank her for it. We may not be able to extricate ourselves from the imperfect communities we belong to, or from the sociologies we navigate on a daily basis. But maybe we can giggle now and then about their irrational mooring, at ourselves for upholding them, “The way/ we believed it was all in service of such seriousness.” Maybe that’s a way to love ourselves, and our communities, better.
Did you read Berta’s poems? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did she inspire you to write? Send me poems!,
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