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Where Are We Going: Gina Myers on Ryan Eckes
Gina Myers reviews Philadelphia poet Ryan Eckes’s first book, Old News (Furniture Press 2011), over at The Rumpus. Myers notes immediately that, while the book is particularly local to Philly, that “the poems can easily register with anyone who has lived in a close-knit neighborhood or who has tried to be a part of a community and knows the feeling of wanting to be accepted but not quite fitting in, stuck with the label of ‘newcomer,’ or ‘outsider,’ or simply ‘not-one-of-us.’” More:
The poems run between lyric and narrative with many of them having a steam-of-conscious-like feel as the speaker makes leaps in ideas and imagery from line-to-line. The second poem in the book, “odd years,” raises the question, sans question mark, “where are we going,” a question that hints at an underlying restlessness and/or lack of direction, a question that shows up again later in the collection. The poems spring from the purchase of a house and deal in part with what goes into making it a home–roofers, neighbors, and lawn care. But a sense of discomfort underlies this attempt to settle in. In “jogging the O,” a title which recalls a mouse running in a wheel getting nowhere, Eckes writes, “people say but you own it / but i know it owns me.”
One of the sources of the speaker’s discomfort is his neighbor Frankie, who is first described in “how to get around”:
he still works for the union, listens to rush limbaugh, and complains about the traffic in this town. you think it’s pushing you, he says, but you’re really dragging it. so why don’t you just take the subway, i say. ah, the subway, he says, well the subway’s a little too dark for me if you know what i mean.
Despite Frankie’s racism, he is someone the speaker has to deal with in his neighborhood. At times the speaker even wonders what he has done to upset Frankie: “why won’t Frankie talk to me? / when i say hello i get barely / a nod back” (from “cake”). However, the speaker allows his anger to boil over in “inside the scowl,” a poem that looks at separate instances of racism in the neighborhood, from the Italian men on the corner scowling as the speaker walks by with his wife, who is South American, to letters trashing Barack Obama in the South Philly Review, to his own participation in segregation….
Myers also notes that “[d]espite the book encompassing the gloom of a failed marriage and addressing twenty-first century racism, there are a number of beautiful moments throughout and some humor too…” Read the full review here; this interview with CAConrad and Eckes at PhillySound is also worth your while.