Friday 25 October 2019


Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Who eats in a cage? Or with a caged mouth?” There is either writing or not-writing (even though not-writing may be as specific concerning what is not written as writing is concerning what is), and the dividing line between the two is not so much a wall as a cliff, an inequality more effective than a barrier. Anne Boyer’s collection of prose poems, Garments Against Women, is everywhere alert to the ways in which the world as experienced by those who live in it is riven by inequalities. Those who wield a power or who benefit from the wielding of that power have little perceptual overlap with those upon whom that power is wielded or who suffer from the wielding of that power, but, interestingly, the advantaged live in a world of more restricted truth, even though the disadvantaged may feel the effects of this restriction. This asymmetry acts as a constraint upon those to whom falls more heavily the burden of existing, “lives diminished by the arrangement of the world,” their time forced into objects and taken from them by what is termed an ‘economic system’. Boyer’s poems interrogate her relationship with objects, for instance the garments she sews or that she buys from thrift shops: “the fabric still contains the hours of the lives.” Can these hours have their value restored? For whose benefit have these hours been put into objects? If “writing is the manufacture of impossible desires,” can we write of or read of objects without involving ourselves in the mechanisms by which time is taken asymmetrically from workers? Is it possible for an object to not exist except as a vicarious object, “an object which exists only as it might exist to another”? Are all objects more vicarious than not? “I am the dog who can never be happy because I am imagining the unhappiness of other dogs,” writes Boyer. How it is possible to write, even to imagine writing, even if one had the time to write, without writing ‘garments’ that are designed by and are to the benefit of those who have confined ‘writing’ in the narrow world of their advantage? Whose roles must be challenged and overhauled? “I will soon write a long, sad book called A Woman Shopping", writes Boyer, an self-described “addict of denial”, in the poem ‘A Woman Shopping’. “It will be a book about what we are required to do and also a book about what we are hated for doing.” Everyone is smothered by their role: “If a woman has no purse we will imagine one for her.” “Everyone tries to figure out how to overcome the embarrassment of existing,” but the real struggle is “not between actor and actor. It’s between actors and the stage.” Boyer’s poems provide subtle and often surprising insights into the relationships between individuals and their roles, desires and scripts, personal and societal misfortunes, struggle and survival, despair and surprising joy. Can writing effect real change? “I thought to have a name was to become an object,” writes Boyer. “I thought I was a charlatan. I was mistaken. I was not a charlatan, I was a search term.”

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