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Week 1: The Pedestrians, Rachel Zucker

August 30, 2018

Here goes. Book/week 1 of 52. This isn't, or I don't intend this to be anyway, a review, per se. I'm not a critic, not a real book reviewer, just a reader, a writer, a book appreciator. I don't quite know where this will go, but here, in no real thought-through order, are my impressions of this book.


Though I didn't get around to reading/finishing it until now, I obtained my copy of The Pedestrians, by Rachel Zucker back in June, through the Poets for Immigrants' Rights group auction to benefit The Florence Project, which provides legal services for immigrants in custody in Arizona. This seems important to mention because of the connections between the mother/wife perspective of the poems, and the currently still broken families at our southern border. Also, it means the book is inscribed to me:


(no, thank you, Rachel)


The first half of the book is called "fables" and includes five (5) multi-page poems/subsections with titles like "apartment" and "mountains." If I had to label these pages I'd call them "prose-poems" I suppose, though I also want to say they are more like mini stories in verse. They are, actually, fables. One page about a jackdaw in the "ocean" section led me to enact my first dog-ear of the book, even before I realized, some days later, upon my son's bedtime, that it recalls the fable of the jackdaw who vainly put on other birds' feathers for a time, as retold in this version of Aesop's Fables, Unwitting Wisdom, beautifully retold and illustrated by Helen Ward (also recommended):

(I mean, come on, isn't that the most beautiful jackdaw you've ever seen?)


While reading this fable to my son for the few-many-eth time, I recalled Zucker's prose poem and that I had dog-eared it. These old tales have a way of sticking, through time, across genres. Zucker's is different, of course, the basic premise of the original tale hung upon a mother, a wife, a woman trying to be things or not be things in the world. Unlike in the original tale, though, where the jackdaw's "borrowed" feathers are symbols of vanity, of superficiality, the metaphorical feathers put on by Zucker seem to have more to do with real emotions or ways of expression that surface in certain situations even when they're not the "real" you that you want to be. That sounds cheesy and morality-tale-ish, but I assure you Zucker's poem is not that. I've been the jackdaw she writes about, and she gets it. 


I'm guessing that more of the poems in the "fables" section are also riffs on the old Aesop's fables and others, but I'm maybe not as up on my fables as I should be and the references slipped through. Still, they all have that same fable-ish quality of revealing something true about the world through story. But, you know, poetically, and with more subtlety than I've managed here.


The second half of the book is composed of more traditionally formatted poems, in a broad sense. Throughout the section there are regularly titled poems on various subjects, as well as "dream" poems and many labeled as "real poem" followed by the poems subject in parenthesis. These "real poems" are generally short, and fairly straightforward and to the point. The dream poems are, um, dreamy, and rather surreal in the way that dreams are. The others run the gamut. Perhaps Zucker is making some kind of point about the intermingling of worlds in this self-contained collection.

 (teaser of a dream poem; buy the book)


The dream poems made me think of this other dream poem, written by some famous (in poet-world) poet and published in some famous (in writer-world) lit mag, and posted to twitter recently (I wish I could remember the specifics of who and where, but I don't). Anyway, the point is, this poet confirmed on twitter that the poem was, in fact, based on a dream she'd had. I thought how great it would be to be such a well-respected poet that I could write dream poems non-ironically and have them taken seriously by serious magazines and other serious poets. Well, here's another poet doing just that. Maybe, I thought, I should reconsider my opinion of writing about dreams as being rather juvenile. So, the other night I had this very vivid dream of my son being kidnapped. The next day I tried to write a dream poem in kind of the style of Zucker's. It was hard and it ended up feeling juvenile and journally, just as I had suspected it might. While I still get a tinge of that feel from Zucker's dream poems, they also generally do something poetically, communicate something more meaningful to an audience wider than oneself than my little attempt did. Perhaps writing a poem about a dream is, after all, a worthy artistic endeavor. Perhaps I'll try it again.


I could say/write a lot more about this book. I dog-eared lots of poems. I did so because they resonated with me and with things I've wanted to say myself about the complicated and conflicting experience of motherhood and partnerhood and trying to maintain a sense of self in the midst of it all. It makes me want to write better, more expansive, more subtle, weirder mother poems.




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