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The Stranger Manual: Poems
Graywolf Press, 2009
88 pp., $16.00
Miss Peach, Singular Muse
Catie Rosemurgy's The Stranger Manual, possibly the most surprising, engaging poetry volume to appear this past year, offers strong proof—yes, by itself—for the vitality of contemporary poetry. The collection treats its several related topics (personal identity, womanhood, desire, envy, relationships, beauty, the body, the physical world, all of those things that harm and heal us) with strong voices and a mind for fictions. Its wide-ranging lyrical styles succeed in bringing those voices textually to life. The most noticeable thing about Rosemurgy's second collection is Miss Peach, the main character of many poems. Something of an inscrutable Everyman, or Everywoman, perhaps inspired by the title character of the long-running comic strip, she finds herself in curious situations announced by the titles: "Miss Peach Returns to High School to Retake Driver's Ed," "Miss Peach Visits Her Ex-Boyfriends in the Hospital," "Miss Peach by the Sea," "Miss Peach Imagines She Is an Aging British Rock Star and Explains What Honesty Is," and so on.
This creation of and commitment to a poetic character, one who reappears or speaks throughout a sequence, enjoys a rich tradition, from Philip Sidney's Renaissance alias Astrophil to Henry in John Berryman's Dream Songs. One reviewer speaks of Miss Peach as Rosemurgy's "alter ego," but this presumes an awful lot, doesn't it? Any easy identification with the author sells short the book's wildly imagined, sometimes surreal settings. Several of the poems mention a locale as well, but again, Gold River should not be too quickly seen as resembling the Upper Peninsula from which Rosemurgy hails. In fact, the poems most focused on this location were for me consistently less memorable, less inhabited let's say, than those featuring Miss Peach downstage center. She is a (self-styled, it is implied) "hobo/provocateur" who looks askance at "a pale, thin person who has not yet begun to wrinkle," and various other beautiful women or girls ...