by Ann Menebroker
Tiny Teeth, the Wormwood Review poems
R.L. Crow Publications, 2004
Annie also likes to be in love with a new poet's work. She adds that, “I just went to hear 84 year old just retired US Poet Laureate Phillip Levine, as you know, and he knocked my socks off with his humor, gritty poems about the workers..."
FOR MOTHER'S DAY, my mother and daughter gave me a hummingbird feeder. I combined one part white granulated table sugar with four parts regular tap water, bringing it to a boil, allowing the sugar to dissolve. I figured I would use red food coloring, just one time, to lure them in, even though I have heard that this may be harmful to their digestive system. My husband hung the feeder outside our kitchen window. In an email to Annie, I mentioned how I was eagerly awaiting the hummingbirds arrival and she wrote back, “I love hummingbirds, too and when I had my own place, had a feeder and was amazed the first time I saw one of them sitting quietly. It was hard to believe.”
Annie's response, in some strange way, hit me as an extended metaphor for the admiration that I have for her and her writing. Annie is my first hummingbird, what I mean by this is I had been waiting for a writer, like Annie to come into my life. I, like so many small press writers, admire the strong, no-nonsense work of writers like Bukowski and the other members of the Meat School of poetry, known for its direct, tough and masculine verse. But I always yearned for the female perspective. I liken the process of finding Annie to being a high school student and spending countless hours reading the Beats at the local library and finally discovering the work of writers like Joyce Johnson and Carolyn Cassidy, of course you have to remember that my research in the library was before the days of the internet information superhighway. I think we all have to remember that there are all these amazing gems in the underground press, but sometimes it takes time to find what you are looking or maybe it takes time to even realize what you are looking for.
I discovered Annie's work through a mutual friend, Hosho McCreesh, who mentioned how my work reminded him of her earlier work. Hosho was surprised when I told him I wasn't all that familiar with her work and he urged me to check her out. He wasn't the first friend who had recommended her, so I figured it was time to get my hands on some of her work. I ended up ordering a copy of Tiny Teeth, a collection of poems that appeared throughout the years in issues of The Wormwood Review. I was not only drawn to the ideas that she was writing about because she wrote the pieces when she was my age, but also because of her blunt approach. I read the collection twice in one day and was compelled to write Annie and tell her how much her work meant to me. Annie's response was warm, sincere and inspirational. Within a few emails, I felt as if I had known her for years. I can not explain the connection I feel, other than to say that Annie, for me, helps answer the question that titles this column, “Why Poetry?”
Tiny Teeth resonated with me immediately because of her ability to balance a candid voice with a philosophical conscience. One of my favorite pieces in the collection is “Repossessed,” where the narrator and her family decide to purchase a house that another family defaulted on. The poem, which is seemingly straight forward, has an erudite quality that adds dimension as seen when Menebroker describes how, “Only spiders are/ there who have spun a million webs where/ the mosquitoes and moths are caught,” then ends the piece by likening herself and family to the spiders “We/ will get caught in our own webs, thank you./ Pray for us.” Another interesting technique that Menebroker weaves into her work is the use of rhetorical questions, that demonstrate the complexity of thought that goes into a seemingly simple moment.
Many of the poems included in Tiny Teeth are terse character sketches. In “Tropical Fish,” everything in the narrator's cousin's life has changed, besides the fish that, “swim dreamily in the tank/ as though nothing/ has changed.” Even after his wife and children become visitors and his new younger girlfriend leaves, “he will go on/ feeding the fish.” I love the concept that he is left with this gorgeous fish that isn't even native to the surrounding when everyone else is gone. I also get the sense that, through his repetitive actions, he doesn't even realize what he has lost. This is exactly what I love about Annie's work, how she shows the complexity of the simple. The piece “John” is a sketch of a man, who was going to become a priest, who once gave the narrator “an identification/ bracelet without a name on it.” I love the way Annie imbeds curious little lines into her poems that leave you thinking.
Why Poetry? #2 continues...