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Politics Writ Personal—and So, More Effective

Sarah Browning, Whiskey in the Garden of Eden,
The Word Works, 2007, 80pp. [$10.00] Paper.
Cover art by Sharon Bourke. ISBN 091538066-8

A Review by Ed Zahniser

Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal wrote that “the economy of the future will be to make things more beautiful.” Sarah Browning implies that the economy of the future will be to make life more fruitful for mothers and children—and other sentient beings. That would be: without war. Imagine.

Her political poems emanate from the honest barricade that is the self speaking truth to power. The late Washington, D.C., poet Michelle Murray wrote a line waking me up as a late-adolescent in the 1960s, a line about war, simply: “history and my history.” Wasn’t there just history, and that’s that? This was revelation—even if only of my schoolboy dumbnitude. Official history isn’t what happened?

Now we wonder, “Who owns history?” The Smithsonian or its Enola Gay critics? The Civil War’s noble cause contingent? Holocaust deniers? But Poetry, Michelle Murray . . . they were prophetic—Sarah Browning is right in there writing alternative history. From “Another March, January 2003:”

We will find the perfect
Hand-made sign:
. . .
as the papier mache coffins go by
the angels of death, the skull masks,

Which is not to pigeonhole Browning as war-protest poet. She is poet, as were Cardenal and Murray. Walking out, the crowded city air was icy and rotting hot from “I Was Separated from My Breasts in a Large City.” I want to be eight, the easy flail / before the apple / before the knowledge of my tree trunk body.  (“Heads Flung Back, Racing on the Lawn”)

Erotic knowledge does come: You are away / and I barely remember you / barely recall our love-makings / going blind in the kitchen / as you press me up against the wall. (“Barely”) Praise wine that reminds the body, chocolate / at the back of the throat. // Praise your hand pressed between my thighs. Praise / all the places it wants to travel. (“Praise for Turning 40”)

Sarah Browning is coeditor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2003) and coordinates the group of that name. She was founding director of Amherst Writers & Artists Institute, providing creative writing workshops to low-income women and youth, and a fundraiser for The Fund for Women Artists—playwrights and filmmakers. She heads the upcoming Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (www.SplitThisRock.org).

Ed Zahniser is poetry editor of the Good News Paper in Shepherdstown, W.V. He is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Mall-hopping with the Great I Am, Somondoco Press, 2006, and an online chapbook, Ransacking Desire for a Seed of Contemplation (www.languageandculture.net), 2007.

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