Book Club: Stateside

My wonderful friend Kat sent me a copy of Stateside when I emailed her a few weeks ago about some Iliad/ancient Greece questions, and honestly, I can’t remember the last time I loved a poetry volume so much.

ImageStateside came up in our conversation because Jehanne Dubrow writes a lot about Penelope and Odysseus in her work. Currently a professor at Washington College, Dubrow is a child of the foreign service. She is also married to a guy who is in the navy, and that’s what this book is about. Unrelated but amazing: she also has a blog about perfume and poetry, which is fun and I am so into it.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Penelope and Odysseus, the extremely brief rundown is that Odysseus leaves for the Trojan War and Penelope waits for him for basically an eternity, refusing all suitors and hoping he’s alive. It’s a very sad, but very touching story that is pretty applicable today.

Dubrow casts herself as a modern-day Penelope, and she’s sharp, hopeful, bitter, funny, smart, romantic, mean-spirited, fearful, wistful– I could go on. She’s all the feelings you have when someone you love is somewhere unsafe. Her overall style is very formal– she tends toward traditional formats and rhythms– but the feel of the book is decidedly modern.

Rather than just taking my word for how great her work is, I thought I’d offer you a poem from the collection, with my attendant apologies about how the line breaks worked out; I’m not sure why they aren’t working correctly.

Penelope, Stateside

On an island called America,

start fantasizing of the sex

you had with him. Go shop for bras

and lacy thongs at the PX,

black garters, bustiers, a cream

that leaves your body woven silk

a self-help book for self-esteem

a bag of M&Ms, skim milk

to keep you thin, a Lean Cuisine

(you hate to cook for one). Or buy

a pair of True Religion jeans,

the denim pressing on each thigh

so that there’s no sensation but

blue fabric like a second skin,

no lover’s touch more intimate,

than the zipper pressing in.

But don’t forget. He may come home

so torn that purchases won’t mean

a thing, not the Posturepedic foam

pillowtop mattress, or the sateen

duvet. He won’t be satisfied–

by the eiderdowns or bedspreads sown

by hand– still numb, because he’s stateside

and dreaming of the combat zone.

So there’s that. I couldn’t stop feeling the feelings when I read through the 57 pages that comprise the collection. Give it a try– even if you don’t know anyone in the armed forces, foreign service, etc., the writing is still tight as a drum and rife with beautiful allusions and imagery.

Next week, I’m going to read this graphic novel. Please join me.

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