Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer
Ahsahta Press, 2015; 104 pp
REviewed by Annie Won
It is amusing to read the many previous reviews of Garments Against Women before penning this one; everyone wants to put Anne Boyer in a container. Is this lyric poetry? Lyric prose? Lyric essay? Philosophical quotidian? Creative political discourse? Quintessential Kansas? Techno-modern contemporary?
What also surprises me in reading Ahsahta's webpage and the book's back cover blurb is an insistence in framing the work as Anne Boyer's deeply personal narrative—as if I were to open the pages of her diary, her inner membranes would fall out.
This is especially ironic because the work refuses to be contained.
Suffice to say that the internals are slippery (Have you seen your internals lately?), and that the work immediately, deftly transcends beyond its personal container into an impressive range of liminal registers, which are sustained, made flesh, kaleidoscopic. Unabashedly grabbing the reader by the head (and maybe by the hair), Boyer begins the book with “THE ANIMAL MODEL OF INESCAPABLE SHOCK.” Boyer defines the whole in the context of a forced binary. There is an animal. She is bounded on two sides. The space between 0 and 1 is often 0.
Writes Boyer in this piece, “Her misery doesn't require acts. Her misery requires conditions.” The female animal is subject, subjected. “If an animal is shocked . . . she will manifest deep attachment for whoever has shocked her . . . Perhaps she will develop deep feelings of attachment for electrified grids . . . dragging . . . electricity, and informative forms of torture.” Boyer also later writes, “Eventually all arousal will feel like shock.”
The notion of forcing a container on an identity is prime, is primal, in Boyer's view. Has teeth. May be uncomfortable. It is an experiment to which the women (the animals) are subjected and made powerless, voiceless. It is a meditation of sensation at the forced exclusion of other senses. Boyer writes, “I wanted to be really ordinary like an animal.” What is ordinary in a world where voices lack voice? The environment poisons us. The act of writing poisons us. “When I was writing I had . . . back spasms and ocular migraines, and then when I was not writing I spent one month feverish, infected in many places, weak, coughing, voiceless . . . itchy.”
Boyer writes obsessively. Her speaker seeks solutions to overdoing while repeatedly wishing to be cured of her own anxiety, which is also cultural, which is also societal. Is there escape? Where is the door? It is a timeless individual and collective issue. Just as her speaker's ontological run-ons state, “Some people believe to know the fin is to know a shark, but this is an incorrect belief.” What is real? “Some could be real sharks . . . that's just the deal.”
The book is loaded with aphorisms:
“Subjectivity will be convulsive.”
“Information is the poetry of the people who love war.”
Blocks of text are often present without subject titles. There is no fear of, no lack of examination. Nothing is safe. We will dissect the writer, neatly cut out her parts. Boyer writes, "The syntactical evidence of poetry without the frame of poetry is a crime which is much more criminal. Or rather, if it is not in the frame of poetry, poetic syntax is evidence, mostly, of having no sense." Boyer's words often follow rapid turns in logic, mimicking proofs that end with notions of negation, of nothing.
Beginning with “SEWING,” Boyer introduces the metaphor of creating a shirt from multiple pieces of clothing. How do you make a whole? It is so complicated. Don't cry. Boyer writes, “Every morning I wake up with a renewed commitment to learning to be what I am not. This is the day in which I will sew a straight seam . . . I will not presume to know more than the experts. I will always iron.” And later, “There are a lot of sleepless nights over seam finishes.”
Introduced is the notion of a woman as kept inside her sewing machine, and her being is left on the stitches of these garments, which then end up in a thrift store. “This was not an attentive sewist . . . It's me always praying no one will ever look at the inside of my blue skirt. To never leave evidence of excitement.”
There is a lesson here, passed from speaker to child. And the oddly adult-seeming child, referenced in the back cover as Boyer's own, says the following:
“‘I am still a child and am learning to control my impulses and emotions. you have had many years of dreams and realities to learn from so there is no excuse for you to cry.’ she paused. ‘do you have enough dreams?’”