10 May 2012

False Spring

False spring is that time of year when it's “85 degrees & sunny” for a few days; but soon thereafter, there is “snow falling on the daffodils,” which dashes our hope of a more permanent reprieve from wintery conditions.

Using this protean season that “fools everyone / into thinking things are going to be okay” as an overarching trope, Gina Myers's chapbook False Spring (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2012) is a sequence of twenty-seven, primarily nine-line, untitled poems that explore both the city of Saginaw, Michigan and a poetic consciousness that shifts with the seasons. Take, for example, the following:
Unexpected doctor's appointment has me
sweating next month's rent. I've never learned
how to get ahead. In Saginaw, there are people
working to make it better, community organizing,
planting trees & gardens, cleaning up,
trying to battle the perception that this place
isn't worth anything. That a life here isn't worth
anything. Still, I feel more disconnected
each day. Always dreaming of running away.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, Saginaw, like many cities in Michigan, has seen an increase in social problems and criminal activity that relate directly to its high rate of unemployment. To the extent that people in the city are “working to make it better” via “community organizing,” the speaker perceives the possibility of hope. Yet, she still “feel[s] more disconnected / each day” and is always “dreaming of running away.” The speaker's ambivalence about her city, then, mimics the atmospheric alterations of false spring.

But far from being a placed-based text that estranges readers not from Saginaw or similar Michigan cities, the poems extend an empathetic reach through the speaker's engagement with modern information systems, such as cable television and the internet. For example, we find the speaker “Checking updates on [her] phone” to fulfill her “24/7 need to be connected.” Unfortunately, the connection reveals that the world outside Saginaw does not fare much better:
sweeping through the southern states.
Nuclear catastrophe in Japan.
Protests everywhere.
Whether it's a natural disaster, a “Nuclear catastrophe,” or disenfranchised protesters united in the hope of economic equality, the deteriorating quality of life worldwide does not make escape from the oxidized remnants of a forgotten, once-industrial town seem much better. In fact, the speaker tells us that “this story / could take place in Chicago, Buffalo, / Cleveland, Philadelphia & an assortment / of other places. But these days / my thoughts always wrestle with Saginaw.” In other words, while the hardships described in False Spring contain a certain universality, Myers's choice to orient them within a particular location provides readers with an immediacy founded in personal experiences.

With such widespread misery, readers may wonder whether or not False Spring offers any intimation of hope for a better life. While the poems do produce a rather bleak, social outlook, there is a silver lining, which is, not surprisingly, rooted in the microcosmic level of daily happiness:
I just want to listen to music, read books,
eat food, drink beer & occasionally whiskey,
dance, and travel, see my friends & spend
my time with you.
The speaker desires only simple pleasures from life that she can experience with friends and a lover. Perhaps these rapturous banalities are her only solace, our only solace, in a world perched precariously at the precipice of disaster. If such a response seems naïve, the speaker of False Spring does not deny its preciousness; instead, she acknowledges it straightforwardly: “It sounds like I'm fifteen, / believing this could actually be possible.” But in a world where “the people / are losing,” and all we can do is ask “what the hell kind of life / is this anyway,” perhaps are only remedy is, as Breton wrote, to “turn back toward...childhood” in order to buttress ourselves in a world gone wrong.

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