Quantcast

REVIEW: Red Army Red

Author: Jehanne Dubrow

2012, Triquarterly Books

Filed Under: Poetry

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 7

Just after the Soviet Union collapsed, my family hosted a member of an exchange group visiting our small New Hampshire town from the nascent Russian Federation. His name was Vladimir. I don’t remember anything about him except that he was good at darts and he loved grocery shopping. We must have taken him to Shop’n’Save every other day to pick out a new variety of juice.

I hadn’t thought about Vladimir in years, and then I came across these lines in Jehanne Dubrow’s Red Army Red, from the poem “Bag ‘N Save”:

… We walk the aisles
of twenty kinds of paper towels, the display
of Reynolds plastic wrap, the perfect smiles
that gleam from every tube of crest. We’re lost.

Dubrow’s sonnet evokes an indulgent sense of awe I now recognize in my memories of Vladimir and his friends, overwhelmed by possibilities yet reveling in being overwhelmed, like someone finding satisfaction even in a stomach ache after a long anticipated meal. I was just a little kid when he visited, but Dubrow’s poem helped flesh out a character I could only vaguely recall.

For me, this was the most powerful aspect of Red Army Red, giving a shape, an expression, in some cases even a whole gangly adolescent body, to a not so distant chapter in history. If you have any memories of the last days of the Cold War and what that meant, no matter how young you might have been then–or if your family never hosted a shopping addict from Russia–you’ll find powerful echoes in Dubrow’s personal history in verse that help make history personal.

Red Army Red charts the speaker’s path from a childhood behind the Iron Curtain to an adolescence in the U.S. The first section, titled “Cold War,” focuses primarily on the speaker being the child of diplomats. Poems like “Aubade” and “Fancy” convey the day-to-day loneliness of a young girl with important parents, while “Photograph of My Father With Lech Walesa” suggests a sense of being a part of larger narratives, if only a small, incidental part. The title of the second section, “Velvet Revolution,” becomes a metaphor coming of age. Poems like “Five-Year Plan” and “A Samizdat History of the Body” make political drama of puberty, and the speaker throws herself into early, mystifying attempts at love. “Bag ‘N Save” is the transitional poem into the final section, “Laissez-faire,” and, true to its name, this last section contains the book’s most freewheeling poems and also those most focused on capitalism and consumerism.

Each section has its hits, like “Bag ‘N Save,” “Water Through a Hand,” or “Wiretap,” a prose poem about conversation between two teenage girls being monitored by secret police: “… the receivers pressed like shells again their ears, each voice the other’s ocean. And in between the spilling out of words, the click-click-click of a machine recording all their treasures–coral lips they wore in school, the boy with azure eyes.”

Dubrow’s language is always precise and concrete, and though she traffics in political ideas, she never settles for political abstraction, focusing instead on shelves being empty or full, on fashion choices, foods, or physical sensations.

My only complaint about the poetry I found here was that in some cases I wanted more of it. Poems like “Grunge” set a conceit in motion, in this case, a personal transformation, (“Ugly is the new beautiful, my best friend said,”) and ended on a line or image that left me feeling unfulfilled, (“our mouths a shade / of oil slick”), waiting for one more turn or complication.

In the end, the best poems here along with the collection’s conceptual coherence far outweigh its minor and sporadic disappointments. This is smart, personal work, touchingly rendered for an audience who enjoys history, politics, pop culture, and romance as much as poetry.

Similar reads: Stateside: Poems by Jehanne Dubrow, The Stray Dog Cabaret: A Book of Russian Poems, trans. by Paul Schmidt, and Collected Body by Valzhyna Mort.

61 comments to REVIEW: Red Army Red

  • I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going
    to a famous blogger if you aren’t already ;) Cheers!

  • This exercise focuses on developing and improving the strength of
    the muscle. Most men, whether they admit it or not, would exchange the world for a larger
    penis. We seniors have to do what we can do remain in shape so we can get pleasure from our golden several years.

    Most of the supplements contain the same or similar ingredients but there are
    some brands that contain higher and more effective
    dosage than other brands do.

    Here is my blog post :: velicina penisa

  • If not, perhaps you should begin searching for it. When this happens,
    the very best factor to do is to place the cards absent and come back
    later on. What would occur if you really paid interest to
    those occasions?

    Here is my site; AskNow Psychics Reviews

  • If after your 1st month or even inside the first couple of months, if your not making any money, you will receive
    a full refund. In any case, the Sanyo VPC-GH4 Camcorder is a great
    buy for anyone who would like to start taking
    a higher quality video. Use other traffic sources besides Google, Yahoo and Bing3.

    Here is my web page :: Prestataire site web

  • Can I just say what a relief to find somebody who really understands what they’re discussing on the internet.
    You certainly realize how to bring an issue to light
    and make it important. A lot more people must look at this and
    understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you’re not more popular given that
    you definitely possess the gift.

  • This will aid prevent further marring your own home and property and never having to approach a bank or loan shark for cash.
    Others have only recently begun the process of re-roofing, whether
    as part of a maintenance program, or simply to improve the aging roof.

    The effect of this accounting entry is reflected in the presentation of the net book value, while its acquisition or
    historical cost remains unchanged.

  • I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was
    wondering what all is needed to get set up?

    I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty
    penny? I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100% positive.
    Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  • In this regard, you will have to check the previous performance graphs
    of contractors and home improvement service centers. The conventional “drywall” material used in construction is made up
    of gypsum, which requires a huge amount of energy and several
    stages to produce. Temporary roof repair is necessary so that you can prevent
    further damage when another storm hits before you get
    your roof permanently repaired.

  • I need to to thank you for this excellent read!! I certainly
    enjoyed every little bit of it. I have got you book marked
    to check out new things you post…

    My weblog; Webster

  • I ggot this site from my friend who shared
    with me regarding this web age and at the moment this time
    I am browsing thijs website and reading very informative articles at this place.

    My bblog post … online forex trading in india

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>