Briefly Noted: Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer

reviewed by Michael Lindgren

Filed under: Blog, Briefly Noted |

This hybrid meditation from Kansas City poet and philosopher Anne Boyer is a frankly astonishing expression of great beauty, pain, and force. Like all such artifacts, it is extraordinarily resistant to summary; suffice it to say that Garments Against Women is a freewheeling prose poem, written in coolly unspooling paragraphs that are both dense and fluid, that improvises on themes of feminist identity, precarity, illness, the nature of capital, and the twin poles of production and consumerism.

Part of the startling impact of the book derives from the way it combines abstract methods of structural analysis with concrete details. “It is a requirement of the idea of the ‘transparent account’ that someone should steal as an affirmation of the desirability of profit,” runs a line in “The Open Book”; two pages later, an unnamed subject “stopped weeping a little and… found some brown sneakers for $44 on clearance.” The linking of grief and the mechanics of consumerism, of emotional states with tangible things, with production – sewing, writing poems, baking – with self-erasure, is consistent, nuanced, and relentless. Like the poststructuralists, whose vocabulary she has absorbed, Boyer sees depths beneath every surface, signifiers in every object; like the Romantics, whose emotional ferocity and courage she has also inherited, she is unafraid to expose the self to the reader, “stoned and inconsolable” as she may be.

The twin currents of the confessional and the analytic make for a potent voice, and the result is a document of remarkable expressiveness and force, one that combines high intellection with an unsettling sense of being in-tune with the body and the violence that both state and self can visit upon it. In a perceptive review published in the Poetry Project newsletter, the poet Nina Puro calls the book “an affirmation of negation: of removal or de-affiliation, a radical refusal to participate.” Would that all such refusals to participate were so eloquent and felt so necessary.

Michael Lindgren is a writer and musician who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.