Adrienne Christian’s third collection, Worn—out from Sante Fe Writers Project on April 1 but available to our Poetry Book Club members in just a few weeks—is really a community of poems. There are poems about family members, husbands and lovers, close friends, extended family, and some that widen out their view to address some aspect of the society all these people inhabit.
These poems are at times tender, like “Portrait of Everyone’s Nana” and “At a Seaside Restaurant in Maine,” where the speaker watches a family gather around a father who may be recovering from a stroke and celebrate his strength. They’re sometimes creepy, like “Me Too?” a ghazal about a landlord who continually denies going through the speaker’s panty drawer. There are poems about desire and sexuality, and one about leaving a favorite robe in a hotel room because the speaker was checking Facebook while packing.
There’s a range of human experience in this book, is what I’m saying. But before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Worn, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Adrienne Christian, you’ll need to subscribe by January 15!
In the poem “Portrait of My Very Jealous Husband,” Christian pulls off this really interesting rhetorical move. The speaker in the poem is the husband, not the writer of the poem, and the poem seems to be drawing a portrait of the writer. Look at these opening lines: “No. What Adrienne loves is books. / For breakfast, it’s tea, toast, watermelon, books. // In her bathroom on the sink, on every space around the tub, / it’s bubble baths, sugar scrubs, magazines, books.” The reader wonders, is the poem’s title inaccurate? Is this a mistake? It’s a reasonable question.
But I think the answer is no, because what Christian is doing here is using the husband’s voice and descriptions to show us something valuable about him. It’s important to note that this poem is a ghazal, which is traditionally a love poem that also deals with the pain of separation or loss, and this poem embodies that really well. The husband, the title tells us, is a very jealous man, but he’s not envious of his wife’s relationship with another person. It’s her books; they’re everywhere: “On her face. On her breasts. On her belly. In her little black / dresses’ pockets.” They’re hugged up with his wife in the window, they’re on his side of the bed when he returns from traveling, they’re keeping him from “chicken n waffles on Sundays.” Frustration is building in his voice, and that’s important because I think the temptation for a writer at this point would be to resolve this somehow, whether toward greater understanding and acceptance of his wife’s relationship with books, or toward greater jealousy—but the poem doesn’t do that. Instead, it takes its claim of being a portrait seriously. It’s not trying to show the whole of her husband, only one limited aspect of him. I think the poem is trying to caution us against thinking you can capture a whole person by looking at one relationship. The husband is more than his jealousy, just as the wife is more than her relationship with books.
Worn is full of these kinds of complicated and intimate portraits, even when they’re not named as such. They’re wonderful glimpses of life in the writer’s community. If you subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by January 15, you’ll receive your early copy of Worn and will be invited to take part in our online chat with Adrienne Christian in early March. I hope you’ll join us!