Before OnStar. Sarah Carson. Etched Press. Wilmington, North Carolina. 2010.
Today's book of poetry frequently writes this blog from his late night bed, my beautiful wife sound asleep beside me. So it wasn't until this morning that I was able to do some Sarah Carson searching.
First thing in the morning my staff are useless as old pasta left in a watery pot so this was all they could come up with. Since publishing Before OnStar in 2010 Carson has published at least four other books/chapbooks, Twenty-Two (Finishing Line Press, 2011), Whey You Leave (H_NGM_N, 2012), Poems In Which You Die (BatCat Press), and Buick City (Mayapple Press, 2015). Good on her, we'll be looking for these - because Before OnStar hits like a brick through the window.
These short pugnacious prose poems glitter. Sarah Carson writes poems as good as the best Johnny Carson stand-up, as good as Carson McCullers painting a sad and sweet corner of love. These short little suckers are atomic bombs.
Every single poem in Before OnStar rattles around the corner like a firetruck on three wheels, siren blarring.
When the investment firm bought the trailer park, they
decided they could make more money if they remodeled
the mobile homes into two rental units each, with a wall
straight down the middle that separated the spaces. I
shared my half trailer for about a year with a part-time
hairdresser named Donna until she got picked up for
trying to hire a hit man outside the Pick Quick. It took me
nearly a month to notice she was gone. It wasn't long
after that Jimmy came strolling through, balancing an
armchair on top of a wheelbarrow and stopping every few
feet to pull his jean shorts back up around his waist. That
night I came home from work and stayed awake for hours
listening to the movies he was watching, full of
explosions and gun fire, underscored by the gentle
rumble of his smoker's cough, the flick of his lighter, the
sweet smell of his fat girlfriend's Family Dollar perfume.
Once I had my staff awake these poems had them dancing around their desks again. Carson's touch is so cheerfully maudlin it's startling. These poems come straight at you and still surprise. These characters are so tragic, so comic, as they relentlessly embrace hope regardless of their poetic trajectory.
Reading Sarah Carson's poems is like watching a bunch of short movies, or accidents, where you see the collision coming and just can't turn away. In this sad cafe these emotionally fragile roustabouts fight hard to keep their heads above water. So why do these poems taste so good? Today's book of poetry will say it is because they are as clear as water gets, entirely see-through, without disguise.
The Twenty-Four Hour Grocery Store, Part I
Ron Bowman got fired from the twenty-four hour grocery
store for no-call-no-shows after his girlfriend had him
arrested for trying to kill her with his Tupac chain. They'd
been trying to fire him for months. They thought he'd
been carving swastikas into the card table in the smoking
break room, but the smokers knew it wasn't him. Joe
Fischer took full credit for it the night he quit, telling Matt
from bottles while they were smoking cigarillos beneath
the black lights in his living room, and Matt told everyone.
That's the way Matt is. Someday Matt'll end up dead
behind a jewelry store.
Before OnStar is a little like reading a script for a grown up version of "Spanky and Our Gang." The lovable imps fully grown into impoverished disappointment, not quite losers but each attractively crippled by things unknown to us, remembered by time.
Carson writes with authority, a nuanced clarity that TBOP really likes.
The Twenty-Four Hour Grocery Store, Part III
His wife found out the week before Christmas, and he
ended up dragging both of his daughters through the
twenty-four hour grocery store in search of the cashier
who was causing all of his problems, each little girl with a
tiny hand wrapped around one of his index fingers, the
bells their mother had tied to their snow boots a flurry of
quiet jingling as they hurried awkwardly down the soda
aisle like late entrants in a three-legged race.
In the front yard that night the cops told the grown-ups to
scatter, but the cashier felt like she was the only one who
listened. For months she'd find herself pulling up next to
the payphone outside the Speedy Q off the highway,
dialing their number and listening intently to the chatter in
the background before they'd hang up. Something they'd
let one of the girls answer, and it was all she could do not
to tell them who their father was, the kind of things he did
when they weren't around.
Before OnStar is a chapbook of modest appearance from the small Etched Press. As modest as it is in appearance -- Carson and Etched Press can take a deep bow and hold their heads high in any company. This is first rate stuff,
ABOUT THE AUTHORSarah Carson was born and raised in Michigan but now lives in Chicago where she works at a church. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in Cream City Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Diagram, Guernica, and the Nashville Review, among others. She is also the author of three chapbooks and the full-length collection: Poems in which You Die (Bat Cat Press).
Sarah Carson has an imaginative gift for transporting us within the nuances & netherworld of her hometown. I can’t imagine are more dead-eye illumination of the region—told with incredible wit & a rough-minded passion. Many might steer you from the town itself, but missing out on Buick City would be a decidedly wrong turn. I will gladly enjoy returning to these pages—and often.
— Ben Hamper
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