Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Did This Happen?: Poems for the Not So Young Anymore by Mary D. Esselman



Women are held to more rigorous standards when it comes to their appearance, and it's a losing battle. We all get older: it's an inevitable by-product of growing up & gaining maturity - so why are women the ones who are punished for it; the ones who are mocked for either not trying or trying too hard; the ones who are criticized, debased, sexualized, and dehumanized?

It occurred to me recently that I hadn't read any poetry since I picked up Edna St. Vincent Millay's THE HARP WEAVER. When I saw this on Netgalley, I rejoiced inwardly because it seemed like such a relatable, tongue-in-cheek concept. A book that mocks the concept of growing older as a woman and light-heartedly pokes fun at double-standards? I could not wait.

Now, having read it, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I feel obligated to point out that this is a collection of poetry and not an original work of new, fresh poetry. The contributors to this effort are diverse and range in style and period, from Amy Poehler to Shakespeare, and do not mesh particularly well - especially not if you went into this book as I did expecting something else.

The tone of this book felt off to me. It is divided into various sections, depicting different attitudes regarding one's descent (or ascent) into old age. Each section has a forward, which is very sarcastic in a pop-culture-laden Cosmopolitan op-ed sort of way. This is at odds with the poems themselves, many of which are serious in tone. Some of my favorites in here - Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, Margaret Atwood - are almost morose, and I feel like the tongue-in-cheek intros act at odds with the sober, speculative content of the poetry.

I've said this many times: one of the problems with many anthologies is that it is difficult to find content that manages to stand out without contrasting in a jarring way. There are always going to be some additions that outshine the others, and some that drag down the rest. I understand the difficulty of being an editor for such a collection. The way HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? was curated definitely falls prey to this tendency. The poems are so different in tone that they clash, and there's no rhyme or reason to them, apart from the motif of growing older and feeling sad or insecure or accepting of this.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

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