Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Allison Joseph's Worldly Pleasures

Allison Joseph's Worldly Pleasures. Cincinnati: Wordtech Communications, 2004.

In this volume, Joseph takes her reader through the hope and faith of childhood, the agony and uncertainty of adolescence, and finally to the confidence and sexual exploration of adulthood. Like in her other volumes of poetry, Joseph creates voices and images that connect with the reader no matter where he or she might have grown up, at once revealing her own reflections while encouraging ours. Who among us has not sang in our rooms, dreaming of stardom, or taken part in bullying while simultaneously praying for mercy from our fellow tormentors? Joseph engages with us as we remember our own childhood and adolescence, and gives us the hope to someday gain the vivaciousness of the volume’s later poems.

In “Classmates,” Joseph explores the pain that we inflict on others during our childhood in order to distract our playmates from our own deficiencies. She writes “But no one liked Marc, / his voice fluttery and high, / … / …I was / the only one thought him cute, / … / loving his thin frame because / it was the male version of mine.” Although Marc should have felt nothing but empathy for the speaker who adored him, he instead made fun of her, and she took her revenge by strangling him, “his collar bunched in my fist.”

This poem vividly portrays the painful awkwardness of youth in which our bodies betray us, taking forms that separate us from the beautiful, “normal” kids, and how that awkwardness yields not mutual understanding and loyalty among outcasts but rather a tendency to mock those like us in order to deflect attention from ourselves.

In the poem “Night Scene,” the speaker and her two friends serve as stark contrasts to the gangly characters of earlier poems, revealing unshakable confidence and power. The three women “having perfected / our haughty stares / we won’t settle / for just any men” reject those they find unworthy, reflecting a knowledge of their own worth that is not defined by the attention of men but rather by an inner knowledge of who they are, their own power. They know that “Sisters like us don’t / come cheap, don’t ever / intend to, fierce/ in our night clothes / still sharp the next morning.” These are not personas that the women take on for the night, but rather their confidence remains in the morning, showing an inner strength that is light years from the uncertainty of adolescence found in “Classmates.”

[Emily Phillips]

Related posts:
Allison Joseph's Voice: Poems
Promise of Poetry (2010)
Rita Dove's Sonata Mulattica

1 comment:

Rightside said...

Hmmm, I have to check this one out. Thanks for sharing your reviews.