Me, Wag

In preparation for a reading in Racine next month featuring Catherine Wagner, Travis Nichols and Anthony Madrid, I’ve spent the last 5 days with Catherine Wagner’s latest book, “My New Job” (a title I’m really fond of).  It has a lot of distinctive, idiosyncratic qualities to it that I really enjoyed getting to read.  As this wonderful video illustrates (and the person who posted it has almost 300 poetry reading videos on YouTube…thanks, guy), Catherine has a pretty great sense of both music and humor.  While the book heightens a reader’s conscious throughout to serious, species-wide tragedies, Wagner refuses to take herself too seriously, never assuming the easy role of a moral authority or any other such stereotype.  One of the book’s biggest influences and references seems to be Wagner’s son, Ambrose (whose work “Eek eek and eek” can be found here), and it feels this like this influence may be responsible for the book’s exacted balance of profundity and absurdity (in the same way that being an intellectual and a mother requires a tricky balance of the two).

What I find most remarkable about the book is that it seems to illustrate a very particular cultural moment or experience really clearly; being an Anglo, middleclass, American, heterosexual woman in the 21st century; an AMAHW in deuce-uno, if you will.  While the book teeters between opacity and such a personal directness that it’s risky, Wagner still never comes out and explicitly claims, “yeah, this book is about being an AMAHW in the deuce-uno.”  But, what at first seem like casual asides (she finishes one piece, for instance,  with the line “What a heterosexist poem!” which half sounds like disapproval and half sounds like Whitmanic celebration), start to add up through the book.  These moments never lose their comic value, but it definitely becomes a tragic humor and a self-aware humor–a humor that questions itself.  As a reader, I found myself confronted with my own laughter at the most fucked parts.  And I use that word very deliberately, because large sections of the book are devoted to analyses (huh huh…yses) of fucking in all its many connotations (see this interview with Wagner in BOMB for more).

Wagner’s consideration of the AMAHW in the deuce-uno is so significant to me because it’s a role in which the individual experiences a unique tension of privilege and oppression or, maybe more accurately, being the oppressed and the oppressor simultaneously.  In the title poem, which is also the last poem in the book, she asks,

“How can I         from inside this comfort

Represent          Hope to

No no

I am                   Too tempted

To think I                  Deserve it

Rigidly and with effort

know my privilege”

[the formatting is slightly different in the book]

These thematic sentiments take on a greater urgency as the book builds more and more momentum, especially, I think because her son seems such a central character to it, and the issue of how not to pass one’s fuckedness (comfort in the role of oppressor) demands urgent attention.  It’s a book super-relevant to our culture at this moment and I think its very existence bodes well for the future.

Come to the Reading, you silly geese! (see this link for more info)

(more info on the reading…not on silly geese).

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Me, Wag”

  1. Ha – you ever read David Foster Wallace , your voice reminds very much of his, although . . . I think you have a better hairstyle.

  2. Thanks for the review, Nick. Uncomfortable laughter is such an interesting readerly response. I catches us off guard and gets us thinking. I like books that make me do that, even if they make me, you know, uncomfortable.

    I’m not sure Cathy Wagner would call herself Anglo – what’s wrong with white? Okay, I get, it would mess up your acronym. What about Euro-American? MEAHW? Never mind, I’m nitpicking. Must go read My New Job right now.

  3. ndemske Says:

    yeah, man, we’ve got to keep preserve the acronym.

    I’ve actually heard the white/anglo divide is an east /west thing in this country (the culture scholar Jorge schement mentioned it at a talk i recently attended). since i’m in the midwest, am i entitled to use both?

    and mike–it’s great to hear from you…been so long. I’ve never read DFW, though I am fond of the acronym for his name. And i just saw the movie “brief interviews with hideous men.” does that count?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: