Review: “My Resignation”
My Resignation, Maureen Thorson
Shearsman Books, April 2014, $16
Washington, DC, writer Maureen Thorson’s My Resignation is a smart, surprising study of what happens when two people move into the same house. The first poem of the collection, “A Man for All Seasons,” lets us in immediately — I imagine her front door swinging open — and tells us where we are going, and why it matters. We are moving into a new season and a new house with a new love. This is a high-stakes experiment, and the narrator wonders if she can trust again, “or else what always broken thing, tongue-less bell, will I become?” This collection moves swiftly in short line breaks and unexpected spacing so that the reader is always surprised, as if turning a corner. The end of this preface-like poem brings us into the first section, “April Allegrezza,” when she writes, “Let’s see how we do.”
Thorson doesn’t stray too much in form in this collection. In fact, if you were flipping through My Resignation you might be struck by the space between lines; the space is working as hard as her language is. Each poem, regardless of section, has the same short lines and the same interest in space. Instead of feeling choppy or stunted, the lines read like half-glimpses of magic, because what follows is space. When read aloud, a reader can pause on these short lines. Each glimpse is rendered important, necessary even. Note this example in “Closer Than They Appear”:
I am thinking of ears.
All the time,
I am thinking of “ropes
of sand or seashine.”
Objects in mirrors.
The slivers of your whiskers.
Her short lines are precise but never cutting, soft but never sentimental. You will find yourself believing in the speaker and this season of newness; I found myself wanting success for their “grand experiment.”
There are only a few poems in which her backyard’s vegetation and flowers do not rise to the surface. The growth in Thorson’s backyard seems to mirror her own thriving, and at times her own doubts or failures to grow. In “For the Evil Dead,” Thorson connects the outer with the inner:
I’m worrying again.
Lilies rough up the neighbor’s yard;
I’ve been cooking this for hours.
These lines mirror much of what this collection meditates on. There is a preoccupation with worrying and doubt. Along with this comes the spring’s growth or inability to grow, in the lines, “our rose/ looks sick.” One of my favorite, quieter lines follows, “I’ve been cooking this for hours.” It is this switch to a wonderfully mundane moment that allows Thorson’s poetry to steer clear from cliche or sentimentality. Yes, the rose looks sick, but also she’s been cooking something for hours. A bright glimpse of one daily moment is enough for the reader to feel included. It’s as though Thorson has left the spare key under the welcome mat for us. Daily moments are the lifeblood of this collection and can be seen most obviously in the scattered dialogue. The dialogue has variation; it can be vague or concrete, and even funny. In “The Sun Sets Every Day,” the poem opens with the following dialogue:
“That’s what I like about you.
You backpedal so well.”
On a first read, it seems as though doubt is thematic in this collection, and it is — especially in the second section, “May Day.” Doubt is dressed as “a gunman / in black” in “Escape from the House of Noir.” However, on a second read, especially as we move into the third section, “Toward Eternal June” and the final section, “Three years later,” it seems that this collection is about a sort of convergence. The speaker resigns herself to the everyday that she is a part of and the uncertainty of the future. It’s rare to find a collection of poetry in which we find such a quiet victory. In the final poem, “Smorgasbord,” she writes, “And then we’re on the porch, blessed peach eaters, reading books/ about Russian folklore, dribbling nectar all over our chins.” She resigns herself to the uncertainty and to the tomatoes, to the nectar on their chins and the banana popsicle.