I’ve been trying to get at what makes Molly Spencer’s poems so intriguing for a while now, but especially since I started reading Hinge, her second collection—though, as she points out in the acknowledgements, the first one she wrote. I think it’s the way her poems are both intimate and reticent at the same time. Many of the poems in Hinge are about subjects that might lead the reader to expect outburst: poems about family disruption and dealing with chronic illness, about children and the endings and beginnings of things. But her poems don’t explode, because there’s there’s too much going on in life to deal with an explosion or clean up its aftermath. Instead, these poems cut and clean and bind and then look for ways to survive until the next time.
Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Hinge, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Molly Spencer, you’ll need to subscribe by September 15!
Back to Spencer’s poems. For example, look at these lines from “Girl with Book and Angel.” The opening lines suggest a situation that’s disturbing not just because of what it describes, but because of how familiar it is.
Everyone watches a girl unfold
into woman and I hid
in the shade
of my thorn-dark hair
when my father’s friends looked at me
That Spencer begins the poem with “everyone” is important because it signals to the reader that what’s coming in the poem is not unusual, no matter how much we might like it to be. This isn’t everyone in the sense that everyone does a thing and so we excuse it; it’s everyone in the sense that a constant threat exists for young women, even, or especially, in places where they should be able to feel safe.
Then an angel appears unexpectedly, with “reckless wings // no manners at all,” but the speaker never lets her guard down. “I knew enough to hold / my hands like blades, look him in the eye, / grant him his words all full of holes—.” The speaker is guarded and distrustful but also unable to stop the angel from doing what he planned to do. The next stanza is an erasure of Luke 1:30-35, which is the moment where Gabriel announces to Mary that God will impregnate her. In Luke, Mary’s response is mostly to ask how this is going to work since she’s a virgin, and then later to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the child who would become John the Baptist. But Spencer’s speaker says nothing to the angel. Instead, the poem ends this way:
As for me, once released,
I hopped on my bike and rode down the street
to see my cousin,
older than me, but also stained
fresh with God.
Look at the work those two end words, “released” and “stained,” are doing in this passage. They bring in a lack of consent and the permanence of what’s been done to the speaker, and the fact that God is the perpetrator doesn’t make the actions any less terrible.
Spencer approaches her other subjects with this same level of attention to language, and we’re really excited to be sharing this book with our members. If you subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by September 15, you’ll receive your early copy of Hinge and will be invited to take part in our exclusive online chat with Molly Spencer in early September. I hope you’ll join us!