“girls so sturdy”

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

13 of 100: Autoplay by Julie Babcock (2014, MG Press)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • I like the way the book feels in my hands. Matte cover. Slightly smaller dimensions than the standard poetry book. Why does it matter? It felt like a pocket guidebook, and the content played that out.
  • I enjoyed how place (specifically Ohio) seemed like a character based on how Babcock used it in the poems (see some of the selections below). And when it came to actual characters (people), Babcock’s poems focused on their mythology/archetype without losing their specificity. It was a neat trick!

Lines I want to remember:

  • “Ohio loves to be sorry. / She sits in the beautiful spectacle / with galloping horses and American cannons. / The shame of gunfire against arrows.”
  • “Once i found a set of bones / that looked like a human hand / except much larger. / … Under the skin whales have / jointed fingers / and opposable thumbs. // How did a whale / get to my gravel pit? / I sift my bones quietly. / Whales talk in such low frequencies / we miss most of what they say.”
  • “She won’t speak / of the body / pressed against the floor / that took the thrusts, / … The song she sings / is a different language. / When women become birds / they sit high / in unreachable trees.”
  • “We’re hungry / so chop onions and sizzle in oil. / We’re thirsty / so pour my cheap scotch. // She plays sets / so time to make toasts: / To highways, returns, and Ohio / so rhythmic this clunk of glass.”
  • “Who doesn’t want to prove there is a core? / Nuts inside the inside / like nesting Russian dolls / in glass displays. Girls so sturdy / after they are taken apart / they pull themselves back together.”
  • “Ohio / in her cheerleader skirt / rolling through the grass / to the white yard line”

What others have said:

  • from Best American Poetry: “For Babcock, a particular place entails not just mere surroundings, but specific gender roles, modes of communication, and narratives of identity. In much the same way that the speakers’ voices are contained within neatly presented tercets, couplets, and pantoums, the violence inherent in narratives of place is also subsumed within these orderly forms. What’s fascinating about this tension between style and content is the way that Babcock subtly suggests that conflict, and contradiction, can reside beneath a seemingly un-rippled surface.”
  • from American Microreviews & Interviews: “Babcock’s collection as a whole soars with possibility, myths, and wonders. One can imagine each poem as a miniature figurine of childhood or a toy in a giant sandbox that plays together well as a whole universe. Each one plays a part in creating this beautiful ode to Ohio and the small wonders of our lives.”
  • from the book’s back cover: “In Julie Babcock’s first poetry collection, the state of Ohio appears as an astronaut, a cowgirl, and a waitress at Big Boy. Cultural and personal histories collide on worn-out stages, back roads, and gravel pits in order to explore the paradoxes of home– how it holds shovelfuls of experiences we want to simultaneously bury, unearth, and transform.”

Where some of the poems from this collection live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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