Please Fire Me

September 16, 2010

in Confessions,Lifestyle

Deborah Garrison is the stereotypical 30ish, educated, working woman who thinks that all her problems will be solved when she meets the right man.  In A Working Girl Can’t Win and Other Poems she takes us through the perils of office politics, the sanctity of female friendship, and the trials of finding the right man.  Through her poetry she discovers that even if you do find the right man, all of life’s problems will not miraculously be solved.  Your lousy boss is still a lousy boss, your parents words still echo even after they can’t have any input into your life anymore, and marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

            Deborah Garrison’s confessions, though somewhat disheartening, have become a battle cry for professional single women everywhere.  Her independent mindedness has turned her into a modern heroine and her poems into mantras.  In “Fight Song” she writes:

            Sometimes you have to say it:

            Fuck them all.

 

            Yes fuck them all—

            the artsy posers,

the office blowhards

and brown-nosers;

 

Fuck the type who gets the job done

and the type who stands on principle;

the down-to-earth and understated;

the overhyped and underrated.

 

Everyone who has ever walked out of their house can identify with the frustration of people who make life more difficult for those trying to get ahead and do their job well.  “You can’t be nice to everyone.”   This narrative style is not the symbolist, flowery verse that is what poetry is known for.  It is matter of fact, in your face truth.  Though slightly vulgar at times, her poetry is exactly the thing that poetry needs to bring it down to a level that the majority can understand and appreciate. 

That isn’t to say that her poetry is without the qualities that make a piece of writing poetry and not prose.  The narrative style of the poems just makes it seem so easy a feat to accomplish that many of her literary talents can be overlooked.  “She Was Waiting to Be Told” has sneaking rhymes haunting images.  It is a poem that does what poems are supposed to do: it makes you think.  The poem revolves around the theme that marriage isn’t all its cracked up to be.

For you she learned to wear a short black slip

and red lipstick,

how to order a glass of red wine

and finish it.  She learned to reach out

as if to touch your arm and then not

touch it, changing the subject.

Didn’t you think, she’d begin, or

Weren’t you sorry….

 

            The image of the married woman “behaving herself” in public is powerful.  This woman is sexy, but not confident.  She is an accessory to the man she is with, her husband.  She is present only to make him look good.

            To call your best friends

by their schoolboy names

and give them kisses good-bye,

to look away when they say

Your wife! So your confidence grows.

She doesn’t ask what you want

because she knows.

 

Isn’t that what you think?

 

            Finding the right man doesn’t solve her problems because the woman has lost her

identity.  She has become a part of his world and not an individual.  Her opinion doesn’t count.  Their conversation centers on his ideas and opinion.  The woman in the poem doesn’t even get to tell her own story.  It is told in the third person by an outside observer.  The narrator does take up the cause of this lost woman by presenting this disheartening picture of her marriage.  The final stanza to this poem even takes away the woman’s own body.  It has ceased to become hers and is the property of her husband.

            When actually she was only waiting

to be told Take off your dress

to be stunned, and then do this,

never rehearsed, but perfectly obvious:

in one motion up, over, gone,

the X of her arms crossing and uncrossing,

her face flashing away from you in the fabric

so that you couldn’t say if she was

appearing or disappearing.

 

            This is not the only poem of the collection that focuses of the doldrums of marriage.  3:00 A.M. Comedy” also presents the picture of a woman who is lost in the shadow of her husband. 

            Sometimes it’s funny, the after-hour when

whatever hasn’t happened between us

            hasn’t happened again, and I pretend

 

to be another kind of woman, who spends

the night on the couch in a rage,

on strike for affection—

 

The last woman on earth

who even bothered about sex,

and now I’m nothing but a speck.

 

Lust.  It is a common ground between the women who speak in this collection of poems.  “An Idle Thought” combines the disappointment of marriage and the desire for something more.  Though many of the women in Garrison’s poems have lost their identities to men they are fully aware of the sexual power that they hold.

I am never going to sleep

with Martin Amis

or anyone famous.

At twenty-one I scotched

my chance to be

one of the seductresses

of the century,

a vamp on the rise through the ranks

of literary Gods and military men,

who wouldn’t stop at the President:

she’d take the Pentagon by storm

in halter dress and rhinestone extras,

letting fly the breasts that shatter

crystal—then dump him too,

and break his power-broker heart.

 

Garrison’s women, or in fact Garrison herself, is always questioning the woman that she is, the woman she has become.  She constantly wonder’s if there is something else out there, something else that will fulfill her desires and make her complete.  In the title poem, “A Working Girl Can’t Win,” she laments over what she thinks that will be her lasting legacy.  Is she a slut?  A loyal daughter?  Successful?  Who will she be?  Will anyone read her stories?  Will anyone know who she is?  “Either way, we’ll move on, and she’ll tire/ before long: only her children will grieve/ at the way she was wronged.” 

It seems that nothing can end well, especially with men, but also in the workplace.  “Please Fire Me” combines all of the problems that Garrison encounters in her musings.  She defines her view of men, the workplace, and the world in general, but it isn’t a pretty sight.  It is harsh and realistic.  The woman is undervalued and underappreciated.  Her position in the workplace is perilous.  She is expected to join the rank of men in order to survive, but that is not the nature of women.  She has become trite.  It again expresses a detachment of the woman from the actual place and events, though this time it is a desired separation.  In essence, she gives up and accepts that she can not be a part of the professional male world, though she realizes that it is necessary.

Here comes another alpha male,

and all the other alphas

are snorting and pawing,

kicking up puffs of acrid dust

 

while silly little hens

clatter back and forth

on quivering claws and raise

a titter about the fuss.

 

Here comes another alpha male—

a man’s man, a dealmaker,

hold tanks of liquor,

charms them pantless at lunch:

 

I’ve never been sicker.

Do I have to stare into his eyes

and sympathize?  If I want my job

I do.  Well I think I’m through

 

with the working world,

through with warming eggs

and being Zenlike in my detachment

from all things Ego.

 

I’d like to go

somewhere else entirely,

and I don’t mean

Europe.

 

There is one poem in this collection that is not despairing, but attractive to the 30ish professional woman.  “Long Weekend at Your House” is not a dirge, but a celebration.  In a woman’s life there is one place where the trials of life melt away and everything will be alright.  That place is in the companionship of female friends.  This poem is nostalgic.  The present is intermingled with the past to make a serene escape.  It is a love poem, though not lusty.  It is a poem about wanting to be someone else, though without jealousy.

Strands of wind move

through your house

like the finest blond hair,

like your hair.

 

The porch needs painting

peels its white skin in the sun.

We eat breakfast out here, although

it is nearly fall, and too cold.

 

All this you are heir to.

Of course I want to be you.

Inside the brown spines of books

 

your parents must have read

in their stormiest season.

At night I sink into their bed

and sleep.

 

In this poem the women are together, but there is no animosity, no stress, and no expectation.  They are allowed to just be.  Garrison had to step outside of the professional world and stop looking for the right man to achieve complete comfort and acceptance of the woman she is. 

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Lindsey

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{ 2 comments }

Celia September 17, 2010 at 10:50 am

Very timely post… Thank you!

Alana @ Domestically Challenged September 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Ohhhh, just added to my wish list! This is one of the things I love about you and your blog – I would have never known that there was poetry out there like this – just not something I had thought about. Now, I have to have it.

Thanks so much!

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