Thursday, May 5, 2011

“And She Said…”

Poetry has become quite the “serious” art from over the past 200 hundred plus years, hasn’t it?  I could trace these developments to fellows like Hölderlin & Hugo & Wordsworth, but this isn’t that kind of book review.  After all, Barbie Dockstader Angell, the poet who wrote And She Said…, has said she “writes poetry for people who don’t know they like poetry.”  & those people probably aren’t interested in the history of Romanticism!

But it’s worth noting that at other points in time, poets who relied on wit & humor were often highly esteemed.  That’s not to say there are no funny “serious” poets nowadays (an oxymoron, but presumably you follow my drift).  But it is to say that poets like Shel Silverstein, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash & Dr Seuss tend to fall outside the current poetical canon, no matter how much folks are entertained by their works.  But these writers are Barbie Dockstader Angell’s true literary forebears—in fact, one reviewer stated,
if Shel Silverstein and Dorothy Parker had conceived a child, the result would have been Barbie Dockstader Angell.”

Barbie Angell’s collection And She Said… really is a delight.  It’s comprehensive & at 120 pages, longer than the average slim volume of poetry.  But make no mistake: And She Said… is a book—it’s coherent, largely consistent & all of a piece.  We find ourselves in the presence of a voice that describes disappointment & disillusionment, but who can find dark humor in the daily heartbreak to which we’re all prone.  & there are also moments of real light & optimism.

One way in which this optimism enters the book is thru a series of Barbie Angell’s own colored
pencil drawings—the drawings are crisp & colorful & well-executed in a “naïve” style that dovetails very nicely with the poetry—see the picture to the left, which is one of my favorites (Barbie Angell has shared with me that she may make the prints available for purchase in the future—here’s hoping!)  In addition, her use of various fonts & typefaces throughout the collection has a tendency to unify the collection—a bit counter-intuitive, but true.  The book is visually pleasing.

However, as delightful as the drawings & layout are, this is a book of poems, & this is how the book ultimately will be judged.  On that basis, the book passes muster very well.  Of course, if you are looking for another Mary Oliver or Elizabeth Bishop, Barbie Dockstader Angell is not your poet; but if you judge the book on its own terms & in terms of Barbie Angell’s poetic intentions, then it is a definite success.
As a poet, Barbie Angell has some very real technical gifts.  Her ear for meter is good & she rhymes with great facility.  Obviously, both of these are crucial attributes for a poet who’s inspired by the work of Shel Silverstein!  Let’s face it, free verse can be funny (my friend Jonah Winter has written some hysterically funny free verse, & I've been known to insert a punch line or two myself) but rhyme has always been a touchstone of witty poetry.  & Barbie Angell has a sharp wit that she wields poetically on a number of subjects—from “Life as a Girl,” in which she notes

I don’t want another sleazy ad by Hardee’s and Diet Coke.
All I’m offered is bodywork when it’s my engine that is broke.
Why does society do this to their women and their girls?
And what do you do as a rag doll when you live in a Barbie Doll world?

on to the futility of wishes and desires in “Wanting Nothing”:

I’m getting used to wanting nothing,
and it’s harder than I thought.
It’s made from unobtanium
and nothing can’t be bought.

Barbie Dockstader Angell is also adept at using personification in intriguing ways—it’s really a major strength of her poems, & again, as with her ear for meter & rhyme, very much fits with the type of verse she writes.  In her poems, abstract concepts take on apparent physical reality: she meets Truth in the subway & describes the way he is dressed; Paranoia becomes a detective who keeps “tabs on” the poet; Certainty & Uncertainty are companions that accompany the poet on walks; Love becomes a character in a murder mystery.

In several of the best personification poems, various abstract concepts become types of food, & I would say that poems like “Insatiable Appetite” (in which Angell writes: “I had a misunderstanding today/with relish on the side”), “Tea Party,” (which you can read right here next Tuesday—more on that in a moment!) & “Eat at Joe’s” are among my favorites.  In fact, I like “Eat at Joe’s” so well—& believe it illustrates many of the strengths of Barbie Angell’s writing—that I reproduced it at the bottom of the post.  It will give you some idea of this poet’s unique voice.

“And She Said…”is available at Barbie Angell’s live performances in & around Asheville, North Carolina.  For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to live where we can see Barbie Angell perform, the book can also be obtained by contacting her thru her website at this link.  Also I’d recommend checking out Barbie Angell’s YouTube channel here; she’s a talented performer & really knows how to put her poems across live.

Finally, I’m very happy to announce that Barbie is joining my old friends B.N. & L.E. Leone in a powerful woman’s triumvirate of Robert Frost’s Banjo resident poets!  Yes, Barbie Dockstader Angell, AKA Rockstar Poet in Residence, is this blog’s newest regular contributor & her poems (with illustrations!) will be appearing every other Tuesday (alternating with L.E. Leone’s) at least thru the summer.  Please be sure to check that out & don’t be bashful about saying hello to Barbie Angell in a comment. 

Now, please check out Barbie Dockstader Angell’s “Eat at Joe’s”:

Eat at Joe’s

The menu is deceiving.
The descriptions are benign.
All the reasons that you salivate
are ringing in your mind.
Though it’s all well-represented
and the pictures are concise,
the problem with the menu
is that nothing’s that precise.
In reality it’s different.
Nothing’s ever that surreal.
And the menu doesn’t show you
how thing’s taste or how they feel.
A question doesn’t smell the same
if it’s smoked over a fire.
A grudge is bland without regret.
There’s no frosting on desire.
A slice of life is way too big
to eat all by yourself.
And nothing’s quite as tasty
as a piece of mental health.
This menu is a reference point
to help you decide
what makes the perfect entrée
or what you’d like on the side.
Our prices are fairly decent.
The portion size is good.
The diet plate is stir-fried lies
and a helping of “I don’t think I should.”
But don’t rely on what you read,
or the pictures that they show.
Just grab a menu and a seat,
because you can’t get it to go.

Barbie Dockstader Angell
© 2009-present


  1. The kind of poetry I like - the kind that merges into the very best kind of classic lyric-writing. Great fun.

  2. Hi Alan: Yes, great fun indeed! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. absolutely love Barbie's "Eat at Joe's" but my mind is giddily tripping over it's new found word-toy unobtanium :)

  4. thank you all. : )
    i'm happy to hear that you are enjoying my work. john's review was so very kind.

    alan, i have always wanted to write lyrics, but haven't ever been able to complete the music portion of a song. i guess i'm more bernie taupin than elton john. : ) a great many of my poems have been turned into songs though.

    rene, writing "eat at joe's" was fun. my mother actually has "wanting nothing" framed in her living room. i adore making up new words. : )

  5. What fun! I'm reminded, in an odd way of Emily Dickinson (ED meets Tom Lehrer?)

  6. Hi Rene, Barbie & Dominic

    Rene: Isn't "unobtanium" a great word!

    Barbie: Thanks for writing such delightful poetry--a pleasure to write about it!

    Dominic: Fun for sure. I like your description of Barbie Angell's poetry.

    Everybody remember--Barbie's poems will be posting every other Tuesday right here!

  7. dominic, my word....thank you for the compliment. : ) that is such fantastic company to be in. i admire them both.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Hi Rach: Thanks! I was so happy when Barbie agreed to it. Her writing is so not "run-of-the-mill" net poetry, & she has a real talent. It was a pleasure to read, re-read & review her book!


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