Post+Moxie


Post Moxie
Julia Story
Sarabande Books, 2010
Review by Jeremy Benson

As a writer, I'm kind of jealous of Julia Story's prose poems. I read in the foreword to her book that I can't call them prose poems, lest I imply "the unbelievably drained tones and attitudes of that anemic genre," writes Dan Chiasson, who selected Post Moxie as the winner of the 2009 Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. But I guess "prose poems" is the best description of their form—poetry stripped of verse, loosely resembling prose. I don't mean to imply anything, Dan, honest, especially not tones and attitudes that have been unbelievably drained, because that sounds terrible.

Although Story's form is definitely something to take interest in (and Chiasson is correct to say that the brief poetic paragraphs "suggest the discipline of traditional forms"), it's not her form that I'm jealous of. Rather, I'm envious of Story's ability to tell a story.

(And yes, no pun intended. But, just as I was slipping into Post Moxie, I thought to myself how great it would be to write under a pseudonym like that. One could play with that name plenty. I'm digressing, so let me get on with it.)

Each poem can act as an individual tale, however short. And although some neglect portions of the definition of a story, each progresses, and eventually arrives; I picture a roller coaster—a new, smooth steel coaster—running its brief course only to glide into the station, its riders satisfied and breathing.

In his introduction, however, Chiasson also suggests that the book of nonfiction poems is presented in order of when they were written, and potentially in order of when they happened. So, taken as a whole, read from cover to cover, they tell a singular coherent story. Although the story includes many hes and shes and wes and theys, the only stable character, for sure, is the speaker. As such, the story is withdrawn, told as if looking through a kaleido-telescope. The cover art portrays a house-woman waving, and perhaps the speaker is sitting somewhere in the house looking out a window, telling it how she sees it. How she sees it might not be how it is, but exactly how she needs to tell it. Particularly telling are the poems taking place in front of mirrors: "I look at myself and break. I burst into / butterflies. But she knows me." The story told is not about characters, really, but about self, and the self's inner dialog.

And I think that's where the title comes in. Post Moxie, unless I've missed it again and again, is not a phrase taken from a poem, and so breaks from the casual convention, forcing into examination the relationship between the title and the collection of poems. Once I thought it meant that the poems were written after moxie had left the speaker, the poems being an exploration of the post-gumption self, newly shy and withdrawn. But now I think the opposite, that the title refers to a net gain of attitude and stance. And the book, then, is a final release of everything the speaker had formally bit her tongue at, anything left unsaid by a general lack of moxie.

But as with Bob Dylan's lyrics, Julia Story doesn't come right out and name who she's talking about or exactly what the situation was. Instead, she veils the stories in brilliant 'I'll tell you but I won't' metaphors, more honest and with more Moxie than the real of the real might entail. I'm jealous of that, too.

© Jeremy Benson, 2010