Reviewed by Courtney K. Bambrick
The cover image of Jane Cassady’s chapbook, Adventures of a Lazy Polyamorist (Turtle Ink Press, 2010) is a painting of an empty couch in a colorful print that makes me think of a thrift store Lilly Pulitzer. The emptiness of the couch made me think of adolescence – a time before the bed when the couch was the only option. The colors and print of the couch are happy. The emptiness of the couch is sad.
Jane’s poems have similarly multifaceted moods. The poems rarely assert themselves, but approach the way Jane herself does: with a hard-won vulnerability, a vulnerability that is both weakness and strength. In my exchanges with Jane I feel as though any pretense of “cool” that I attempt is immediately challenged, but in a nice way. Her vulnerability seeks itself in others. She writes in “Fortune Cookie Poem,” a love poem to her wife:
As I walked home
I forgot to tense my shoulders,
to walk with purpose.
Neither of us has died yet
Jane recognizes the risk necessary to love anyone or anything as well as the risk taken in admitting that love to others.
In poems that celebrate (and repurpose) the hits of Beyonce and Lady Gaga, she risks the hipster cold-shoulder. In those poems (“In Praise of Friend Crushes” and “Beyonce Is Better at Having Feelings than I Am”), she cuts and pastes the lyrics of the pop songs in order to express personal truths. Such poems remind me of the kind of obsessive study of Weekly Top 40 lyrics I engaged in as a preteen: keeping a cassette at the ready as Casey Kasem or Shadoe Stevens called out the rank and title of favorite songs, rewinding the tape again and again as I copied out the lyrics by hand. On the bus in fourth or fifth grade, I was complimented by a much cooler girl for knowing all of the words to all of the songs the radio played. [Not relevant, but not unrelated: One of my favorite middle school memories was a bus erupting in “Lean on Me” on a chorus trip. Jane’s poem “Philadelphia Mix Tape (Or Why It Was My 2009 New Years Resolution to Be More Like Beyonce)” brought that moment back to me powerfully.] When we are young people, we reach for meaning; and when we hear pop profundities, we bend them to fit our understanding. I studied song lyrics so that I could sing on the bus and impress girls of higher social strata, but also to know what feelings I should have had that I didn’t.
In “Bi-Girl Blues,” Jane writes: “I can’t unzip this body and crawl to the past / where my teenage self waits brazenly / at the edges of basketball courts.” The shaky hope and trust that Jane illustrates in her poems is not the same as bold teenage postures of desire: we cannot return to former selves. We may never have so much to risk again as we did then, but Jane cannot “hush [her] stupid voice” – she cultivates vulnerability and keeps the risk risky. In “Dear Philadelphia,” she writes:
Philadelphia, I will learn not to feel threatened.
Let me make it up to you,
I will save every ticket stub,
fortune and petal.
Not feeling threatened is a state to which we aspire, and one which we may remember
from our brazen youths – before heartbreak, loss, worry, and the other adult concerns clipped our wings and limited our reach.
Jane Cassady’s Adventures… is neither childish nor girly – it desperately wants to be something so simple, but it knows too much. In “Dear Orange County, 2000-2001” she writes, “Adulthood suits you, / and we’ve learned so much since then / about bodies.” Jane beautifully balances hope with nostalgia: we might have felt free once, and that might have been great, if dangerous. Now, she tells us, we must risk danger if we hope to come close to that freedom again. We’ve learned so much about bodies, but we will learn not to feel threatened, but to become unguarded and brazen.