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Prairie Schooner: Review of Vulgar Remedies

MAGGIE TRAPP

Anna Journey’s new collection of poems, Vulgar Remedies, startles with its lucid, lovely, electric images. Journey’s poems are visceral, they crack and chirr. They draw you in with their singular images (a boy sucking the speaker’s eyeball, a fistulated cow, birds in the blood), and they keep you close with their lyrical, intimate tone. The poems seem spare, yet once inside them, you’ll find yourself transfixed, dizzy, off balance.

Journey uses language and image in a way that’s macabre yet playful. We read about wounds, bruises, fur, musk, heavy heat, insomnia, mothering, childhood, girlhood, old and new love, pulsing blood, calcification, nostalgia, and home. The poems are often about memories and growing up, and Journey allows us to feel the pain and surprise of it all.

In these poems we are often both inside and outside other bodies, particularly animals’ bodies. Journey presents a bestiary where her lyric I nimbly shifts shape. In “Hide and Seek with Time Machine,” the speaker remembers the day when her childhood cat, Pye, went missing and her mother found it in the bathtub:

…She finally

yanked back the bathroom’s shower curtain
and found our cat who’d stretched

out to drowse in the cool
of our claw-foot tub. I liked to pretend the griffin-

footed porcelain formed a magical animal. One
who’d let me climb in, until we shifted

into one species that prowled the hour
before bedtime.

The speaker here moves from finding the cat in the claw-foot tub to recalling how she used to pretend to enter into the animal-like tub and merge with it. This shape-shifting feels both childlike and deliberate, full of wish as well as divination, and causes the reader, too, to believe in magical thinking, to believe forms can transform, inside can become outside, the past can be captured and held. The poem becomes an elegy, a reverie about all that has been lost, and what is gained:

…Sometimes I sleep and think
I feel Pye step lightly up the rungs

of my spine. That’s when I return
to coil in the claw-foot tub, to sleep in its

hushed shape, and stay that way
as death drifts by,

calls our names, and remains
unable to find us.

Journey brings us into a world of impossible connection, a world where we can enter into other beings, and through them find ourselves closer to our own pasts.

 

 Maggie Trapp teaches literature and writing for UC Berkeley Extension. She has a PhD in English, and she’s currently getting her MFA in writing. She is Extract(s) staff poetry reviewer.

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