The Stranger Manual

by Catie Rosemurgy,
Graywolf Press, 2010,
94 pages, paper, $15.00,
ISBN: 978-1-55597-547-0
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In The Stranger Manual, Catie Rosemurgy writes odd, strangely thrilling poems like bite – size morality tales that mock their own relevance with a slyly caustic grin.  Her voice is as alive and electric as Saturday Morning Cartoons, back when they were still good and worth worshipping.

There is exuberance in these poems, and a kind of willful naïveté in the tone that renders ironic the cynicism in the content: “At the base of my wet brain — whatever, / of all brains, all allegedly intricate human brains — / a smallness lies tangled in the roots / of largeness, the one interesting secret is lost / inside the big idea. At least I, in my red socks, hope so.”  Rosemurgy steps nimbly from the intimate to the ultimate in those dainty red socks, dancing giddy circles around serious issues.  With equal parts wit and whimsy, Rosemurgy comments on the human condition, such as it is, and such as she sees it with all of its contradictions, customs, and confusion.

Rosemurgy tickles the essence of things with pointed description and cutting metaphor, shifting easily from cancer – serious to puppy – playful and back again as needed.  “Miss Peach: The War Years” begins with this:

She’s been lobbed,

and like other grenades

can’t help but like

the deeply American ache

where the pin used to be.

She is a squat,

angry seed that blooms

into absence, into big flowers

of what was, a trick fruit

that creates its own mouth,

a wild eye that blinks

its own face away.

This “Miss Peach” is her only named character, yet she defies definition despite being the focus of many of the poems.  This is because Miss Peach lives mostly in the titles, intentionally wordy bits of exposition that twist whatever content follows in the body. One title reads: “Miss Peach Imagines She Is an Aging British Rock Star and Considers Bipedalism While Responding to a Beautiful Woman Who Has Just Said ‘I Love You,’” and here is another: “The Monkey Whose Job It Used to Be to Sit on Miss Peach’s Shoulder Takes Up Olde Timey Music.”  Any attempt at clear, linear story – telling made by the titles is gently sabotaged, and rightly so, by her playful resistance to what is expected.

Rosemurgy is fascinated with relationship expectations, social taboos, and dating etiquette, and she adds to the discussion in a way that seems fresh despite the high traffic this topic has received.  Reading Rosemurgy is like talking to a girl at a party, realizing that she’s a bit on the nutty side, and not caring, because she is the fun kind of touched that wakes you up, slaps you around, tickles you stupid, and in the end, probably has the healthiest perspective around.

There is a playful sexuality bopping around within this book, an impish urge to increase the friction between sweetly disparate images and somehow use that energy to fuel the blowing of your mind.

Todd Perry