In high school, I was part of a claustral group of serious, intense people who made each other laugh with complicated in-jokes and autobiographical comic strips, who researched and amassed thick spiral-bound notebooks full of pictures of musicians we intended to have sex with, and we all hung out at an off-off-brand dollar store (Dollar Goodies) full of beyond-Engrish products, harmonizing to “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” This kind of time, how it tentacled out of my childhood (when I would giggle compulsively at my own thoughts and have to be dismissed from class) and how it looks now in my brand new and nascent adulthood (when I, in my own office, can giggle at my thoughts without fear of reprisal), keeps me in a position where I am constantly beholden to a nostalgia that makes me cry when I hear the Von Bondies’ “C’Mon C’Mon” and keeps me from really mining those experiences clinically. I share the specifics because they are all I have. Carrie Murphy has her own and so much more in her book of poems, Pretty Tilt, the title of which demonstrates her trapeze-artistic acumen where fever dreams of the past and foreboding dread of the future are concerned, always in flux.
Sex tip: Recite peak fertility days for the last five months.
Sex tip: Shoot out the porch light with a .38 special caliber revolver.
The first poems, like “Forsythia,” are all about Caddie Woodlawn-[ing] up out of childhood, sensationalized from within. They attempt to twist back and inhabit a time, but the maneuver is harder than car sex. We’ll never remember the time before we grew breasts, says “the Bitten Tongue.” Poems address you and refer to everyone, when all we have in common is our colossal boredom. Reading the poems is like being in a crowded locker room, whimsically following the conversations of others and realizing too late that you are being addressed. “Februaries” suggests a process, I collected lost things to make into a tree that swelled like a woman’s body, that pays off in “Christmas Tree Skirt,” when the burlesque gags and someone says I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body; but the speaker is not trapped. Words continue to be clarified in the following poem, “Glossary,” where wants are fleshed out further. “Hausfrau” is my favorite. Fantasy, desire, and the material of life that has enjoyed a measure of intrusive sensationalization from the outside starts to amalgamate and break the female speaker into something else:
taste for seventies sundresses to my
checking account who is mocking with
those big pixelated eyes but I just pretend
not to see, lace myself up like
eighties Madonna & head off to
scrub the toilet until I feel
sparkles in my teeth, better
than biting the tinfoil from
a roll of Lifesavers, or
smelling the rubber smell
of a doll that turns into a cupcake,
then keeping the cake from the
Doberman, then wearing the
“Tequila?” gets defensive, declarative. “Just the Tip” predetermines with the first line, She’s a Scorpio, so…and things start to look solid. Pregnancy scares rub up against drunken ragers. When Murphy invokes bands and music she does it in a way that reinforces the dormant but ever-present truth hatched in first-car-radios and friends’ houses: music is the most important thing, and she trusts so much to pivot on references to the Spice Girls, the Weakerthans, Green Day, and No Doubt and that trust elevates every detail to brilliance. Reading Pretty Tilt makes me think of a time when one of my best friends was angry and wanted to blow off steam by driving to an ex’s house in a town an hour away at six in the morning, and we went and she grumbled at the ex’s dark window for five minutes before we drove to the cafe she used to work at and said hello to the bakers coming in out of the rain, and we talked the whole time. I love to be brought back to that moment. Nothing else has done so so powerfully.
Fake isn’t the same idea as pretend.
Happy isn’t the same as high.
Girls aren’t the same as stars.
References to My Little Pony and the Little Mermaid are lurid and cosmetic in “Beams” – the reader has Caddie-Woodlawned right into reveries of Prince William and Abe Lincoln and a maturity that can accommodate irrationally vivid scenarios and impossible wishes (the way childhood is made of them, adulthood houses them). Babies pile up. The effect of the latter poems steeply lousy with babies creates amazing anxiety. Babies make sentences like shoulders behind the coffin, & I wanted to fuck him but I felt bad for wanting to, his mother dead, her blue eyes & big pearls, dead feel like exposed sockets. And the ending, “Blooms.” Pretty Tilt is exact and refracting. The poems amass and mark the leaving of childhood not as a sequence of steps but mounting complications, compromises, adapted and abandoned tactics, and that takes incredible insight. Making it into adulthood with a cogent understanding of what was so dazzling back then and what form that lives in now is as difficult as knocking over a jewelry store. Make away now with Carrie Murphy’s jewels. They are so rare.
Pretty Tilt by Carrie Murphy is available from Keyhole Press