Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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When I wear a skirt I have to make preparations.
First the skirt has to cover the stomach.
Then, I powder up my thighs to reduce friction.
Now, they have invented a gel powder
that not only soothes the skin but it softens
the little tags of flesh that have extruded,
matching on each thigh, like doglegs.
This is a book about being, as the title says, a fat girl—the personal experience of body size and shape, the social stigma and trials of living as both big and a woman in our world, and the agony of myriad insatiable hungers. There’s plenty of meat on those bones, to risk a pun. Carty adeptly parses the social gaze (one poem, describing the fit of a Bon Jovi shirt on one large character, notes notes “She was dressed / like everyone else, / but then again she wasn’t”) and its incumbent pressures, its ubiquity. She also—with humor as well as an ear for stark horror—moves from the awkward pains of adolescence to the ultimate numbness of mortality. One recurrent motif are grotesque fantasies (or realities) of autopsies or similarly invasive openings. Eggs occur with frequency, getting cracked and peeled back. Bodies are dissected, and, in the process, deconstructed, their weight suddenly weightless, worthless, so much absence. There is boilerplate feminist celebration, but with fresh aplomb (one girl, in a photograph, is hailed as “more than cottage // cheese hips, more than / a cupcake face,” but “Athena, brave enough / to wear orange checked shorts.”—it is endearing, but wrenchingly so, a balance of flavors that Carty doesn’t always pull off but which marks the most successful poems included here).
Carty, in this slim volume, gives us a world where everything is ill-fitting and speakers are “destined for the cycle of eating / past satiety and into agony,” hunger leading to pain, alternating emptiness with an overfed, bitter remorse, characters “tired of being fat, but not tired enough”—it’s not stretch to see that this world, regardless of shape or weight, is ours, all of us. The narrow focus of the book can make for a rough read—a barrage, intense, too many punches to the same spot—but Carty is no one-note poet, and the confessional, as a mode, is not lazily employed. Like the voices in these pages, the reader—or this reader, at least, me—feels both glutted and hungry, overfull with the particular content and its painful edges, but hungry for more of the writing, the eye and the empathy and the wary wit.
Official Jessie Carty Web Site
Official Sibling Rivalry Press Web Site