Catherine Wagner (Author)
March 31, 2020
5.9 X 0.3 X 7.9 inches | 0.3 pounds
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About the Author
The author of four previous full-length collections, Catherine Wagner was born in Myanmar (then Burma) during the Vietnam War to American military parents, afterwards living in the Philippines, Indonesia, Yemen, and India before moving to the US. She is professor of creative writing at Miami University, where she is a university labor organizer and founding member of the Environmental Humanities Research Collaborative. Wagner holds a PhD in English: Creative Writing from the University of Utah and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. Her poems appear in the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry and Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America and the UK, among other anthologies. Her latest books include Nervous Device (City Lights, 2012) and My New Job (Fence, 2009). Her writing on academic labor has appeared in Poetry and Work: Work in Modern and Contemporary Anglophone Poetry (Palgrave, 2019), Toward.Some.Air: Remarks on Poetics (Banff Centre Press, 2015), World Social and Economic Review of Contemporary Policy Issues (2017), Poetic Labor Project, and elsewhere. Recent poems appear in Poetry, Brooklyn Rail, Lana Turner, Chicago Review and other journals. She currently occupies a rectangular urban plot in a riverine valley, site of the still-embattled abolitionist/anti-abolitionist city Cincinnati, Ohio. From a blockhouse nearby, the first US Army marched north in the 1790s to battle the Miami-Shawnee coalition in a war that made heritable private property in the Ohio Valley safe for invading settler-colonizers and served as a template for ongoing continental and intercontinental genocide and ecocide. Although at present she continues to pay down her mortgage, she seeks to unsettle herself, her neighbors, her son and her cat.
"Wagner's fourth collection contains poems of memory and dark artifice. She writes with an obscure, magnetic lens. Wagner's longer poems are willfully disorienting: "A Well Is a Mine: A Good Belongs to Me" consists almost entirely of lines encased in quotation marks that confront slavery and invent equations: "Freedom × Need = Reality." Wagner contrasts these complicated poems with short, clean, pieces that offer a kind of breathing space for the reader. Not to be mistaken for trivial, the linguistic tightness of these poems are highlights of Wagner's collection. "Ta" describes a drowning television: "o'er and o'er/ let it stink way down/ and coral grew there./ Covered it oar./ Let miserere deep./ Be mine for'air." The poems delve into and self-consciously warp body, sex, and language. "Unclang" explores writing poetry: "it takes experience to write a real poem that is well-lit," Wagner argues. Later in the same poem we are blindsided by the haunting statement that "writing a poem is like reaching two prosthetic limbs out as far as you can on either side to grab something in front of you. You can't grab it but maybe you'll take flight."--Publisher's Weekly "Taking with one hand what they give with the other, Wagner's poems are full of vehemence and disdain and tenderness and somewhere, in some inexpugnable part of the body of language through which so many discomforting feelings pass, a thorny kind of joy. This is my idea of great poetry: in which 'The actual is / flickering a binary / between word and not-word.'"--Barry Schwabsky, Hyperallergic "In Nervous Device Wagner has transcended the simply wrong to reach a kind of sublime wrong, so every wince is accompanied by a shiver of pleasure."--Lemon Hound "Wagner is to be lauded, first and foremost, for her daring, her conceptual eclecticism, and her linguistic range... Nervous Device is a clear-eyed and brave testament to the changing currents of a poet's life."--Huffington Post From Publishers Weekly Wagner's third collection is conversational and filled with the kind of self-consciousness that acknowledges and draws the reader in: I'm lying down with myself and kissing myself.... I thought, you all might enjoy that, /and the honester I get, the/creepier I'll be. Beginning with a section of Exercises, Wagner (Macular Hole) fixates on the body (the joint will stay in place like a pearl in Vaseline), and everyday pain: Ah good the left shoulder hurts again/because the right shoulder was, and is the wrong one. Branching into sexuality, there is fantasy and fixation, but also demystification (well I expect you to go into the/ fucking human tunnel/ I'm going) and mockery: penis regis, penis immediate, penis/ tremendous, penis offend us. Though she is an experimental writer and takes comfort in ambiguity (it abstracted me, which was salvation), these poems are not impenetrable. There is a fascination with the ordinary--the apt not mine & the carpet's not my fault/ I love that--that keeps the collection grounded and candid. Wagner is obsessed, in a good way, with the idea that things mean, and I can't tell them not to. (Nov.) Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Review "Wagner's third collection is conversational and filled with the kind of self-consciousness that acknowledges and draws the reader in: 'I'm lying down with myself and kissing myself.... I thought, you all might enjoy that, /and the honester I get, the/creepier I'll be.' Beginning with a section of 'Exercises, ' Wagner fixates on the body ('the joint will stay in place like a pearl in Vaseline'), and everyday pain: 'Ah good the left shoulder hurts again/because the right shoulder was, and is the wrong one.' Branching into sexuality, there is fantasy and fixation, but also demystification ('well I expect you to go into the/ fucking human tunnel/ I'm going') and mockery: 'penis regis, penis immediate, penis/ tremendous, penis offend us.' Though she is an experimental writer and takes comfort in ambiguity ('it abstracted me, which was salvation'), these poems are not impenetrable. There is a fascination with the ordinary--'the apt not mine & the carpet's not my fault/ I love that'--that keeps the collection grounded and candid. Wagner is obsessed, in a good way, with the idea that 'things mean, and I can't tell them not to.'"--Publisher's Weekly "Catherine Wagner's My New Job might be the last great book of the oughts. Part of its delight is that it is not constant. Its eyelid adjusts and flutters throughout. It's three books at least: fuzzy portraiture of energy and thought like early moderns: Arthur Dove and Georgia O'Keefe- and even like Pound, in Wagner's familial way of tugging at language. It's also a bit Don Juan (as in Castaneda). It's a new age book: searching, awkward and useful too- a momentary sex manual for girls- then a dirty adult notebook. My New Job is physical, a shucking work. One picks up some spin on Sylvia Plath but what I truly felt was Frankenstein. My New Job is tinkering with life. I found myself imagining Wagner wondering what else Plath might have done- not instead of killing herself but what if she just wrote something different. Frankenstein kept Mary Shelley alive for a very long time while Ariel simply pointed to Plath's own demise. In My New Job 'The women step out, the men go in' and the edifice C. Wagner's made seems an increasingly wider and wider kind of turning- colossal and somatic- through her own body & the bodies of others. Cathy's Job is a joyous multiple. It's a lift."--Eileen Myles In this unexpectedly direct sophomore effort, Wagner blends charm with aggression. Wagner's Miss America (2001) showed a wary critic of consumer culture questioning linguistic givens; these poems, while no less self-conscious, show considerably more verve. "I'm an example, and experimental/ Attempt to assess how a kid of my talents/ Responds when she's given the life that I was," one poem says; two pages later, though, Wagner disavows "The glamorous self and its story." Ragged exclamations and folk and playground rhymes give her choppy, hip discourse surprising energy; her anger--and her willingness to identify its causes--set it further apart. Some of those causes come from sexual experience, others from the travails of raising a young son. Childbearing and motherhood take over the second half of this fairly short book, to fiery effect: "I hate the baby, stop crying... I hate you coming over my life like a bag"; "At my breast/ He sold himself/ To me as my/ Needer." Readers accustomed to canny ironies may find her "outrageous, / power-outageous" interjections too demonstrative, but her powerful ends finally justify their strenuous means. Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. "Emerson, calling for a true American poet, said that language is a fossil record of poetry: every word was once a poem. If poetry is, therefore, some kind of life-animal, then Catherine Wagner's Miss America is a glorious beast. Her first book is cocksure and wailing, stinky, rude, and actually happening. Miss America is not self-thrilled by its (her?) own intentions and inventions, but running fast ahead of them. We have here the strangely visceral truths that fall from children's mistranslations, something undeniable slipped from the angry, drunk, or otherwise possessed. Wagner warns us of herself (and her propensity to invent words) right from the start. The opening poem of the book begins: 'nigh said I made that up to / get some sweeteye from you all / some glance at me even if my / story is boring and a lie / . . . and who fuckin cares they don't / want me to be likem and borem / everybody dead. / Since I been here SCARED / and my natural EBULLISHNESS / held back by a warning finger. / Mo lady! Poop it out!' ... ...Anyone who thinks this is babytalk should remember how we react when encountering a talking baby: fascinated and mesmerized. The further these nascent communications seem to be from 'language, ' the closer they feel to an emotional core. Wagner's tongues, however, are never an escape from meaning. As she tells us in 'Poem for Poets & Writers, ' 'I like understanding so much I want it to happen over and over.' Wagner is not just playing with the readymade materials of poetry, she is working from inner fiat: 'Not here with joy but under pressure / from my superego' ('A Poem for Art in America, ' one of her 'Magazine Poems'). Wagner dives more into the skin than the conscious mind to find her way. These poems are raw, pre-lapsarian in their instinctual connections (not to mention their naked and naughty refusal of sin); they feel more than our language usually allows us."--Rob Strong, Provincetown Arts Magazine