Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Four New York Poems by Deborah Garrison

I saw you walking through Newark Penn Station
in your shoes of white ash....
                                               [extract from 'I Saw You Walking', Deborah Garrison]
Editor Mary McCallum

In recognition of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this week, I am posting a 2008 film of New Jersey poet Deborah Garrison reading four poems related to the attacks, from her second collection The Second Child (Random House, USA, 2007; Bloodaxe Books, 2008).

The first poem in the film is 'Goodbye, New York' - a pretty enough if familiar sort of ditty about a beloved city, but if you're in a hurry skip to 'I Saw You Walking' at the 1'30 mark on the timer - a poem written from the appalling events of 9/11, followed by 'September Poem', written a year later, after the birth of a child. Lastly, 'Into the Lincoln Tunnel' describes how a daily commute is still shadowed by thoughts of what happened in New York in 2001.

Garrison's poetry is new to me and on first listening, it feels wildly uneven, one minute using language squarely anchored in the ordinary and domestic and such frank and unexpected juxtapositions that they can feel like collisions, and the next moment falling back on tired abstractions and trite rhymes. But somehow, of all the 9/11 poetry I've trawled through to find something to post here, her poetry seems to me among the more interesting for its unevenness, for its frankness and willingness to speak up, for its reminders that humanity is something hauled from blood and guts. She makes me think of a woman in a Greek legend wailing from the wall after the invaders have left.

'I Saw You Walking' can be read here with the other poems that appeared in the New Yorker in the months following the attacks, including Polish poet Adam Zagajewski's 'Try to praise the mutilated world' which appeared on September 24, 2001, and while not about 9/11, expressed for many Americans what had happened to them, and is discussed further here: 'Can Poetry Save the World? Zagajewski, Auden: the poets of 9/11'. W H Auden's poem - 1 September, 1939 - was also 'an affirming flame' for the Americans in 2001, along with Poet Laureate Billy Collins' commissioned poem The Names. Garrison's I Saw You Walking was published in the New Yorker on October 22, 2001.

Deborah Garrison worked on the editorial staff of The New Yorker for 15 years, and is now the poetry editor at Alfred A. Knopf and a senior editor at Pantheon. Her poetry has been both criticised and praised as being hip and accessible - her first collection The Working Girl sold an astonishing 30,000 copies -- and then, as the New York Times said, "just as she was being lauded as one of those hip young postfeminist urban women portrayed in “Ally McBeal” and “Sex and the City,” Ms. Garrison gave birth to her first child and moved to New Jersey. For several years, she did not write a poem." Then along came her collection The Second Child.

The publisher blurb says of it: "Her recent poems explore many facets of motherhood - ambivalence, trepidation and joy - coming to terms with the seismic shift in her outlook and in the world around her. She confronts her post-9/11 fears as she commutes daily from New Jersey into New York City, continuing to seek passion in her marriage and wrestling with her feelings about faith and the mysterious gift of happiness."

More on Deborah Garrison here. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed this reading in New York on 11 September 2008.

Once you're heard what Deborah Garrison has to say, enter the world of the sidebar and find up to 30 Tuesday Poets from the US, the UK, Australia and NZ with poems they've written or by others they like, all posted on a Tuesday.

Mary McCallum is curator of the Tuesday Poem, assisted in this by Claire Beynon. She is an author and poet, freelance writer, teacher and bookseller who lives in Wellington, NZ. She also likes to blog at O Audacious Book. 

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