A WORKING GIRL CAN’T WIN: AND OTHER POEMS, Deborah Garrison’s first collection of poetry, offers readers the edgy, witty, self-absorbed voices of young working women of the 1990’s as they examine the contradictions between their expectations for work and love and the actualities which life produces. The speakers of these poems observe office politics and comment wryly on their places in the office pecking order. They look at their lives and see themselves getting older without achieving either promotions or exciting romances (in one poem the speaker laments that she will never sleep with anyone famous). They mourn their strained relationships with their parents and their dull relationships with their husbands.
The accessibility of Garrison’s free verse should not obscure the sound effects and subtle rhymes which give shape to her work. Her short lines and colloquial diction create the illusion of conversation, and internal rhyme and sound effects flicker through much of her work, understated and witty. These poems are not dense; their syntax suggests the structure of daily speech; metaphor and symbol are subdued. Still, when the occasion calls for metaphor, Garrison is ready with appropriate responses. In “Atlantic Wind,” the wind is like a wet dog, “nosing its cloud-pups across/ the sun.” In “November on Her Way,” the speaker thinks of a man she once knew, for whom worry is “a lit fish swimming across/ his face.”
Much of the book’s appeal lies in its timeliness. Its themes and voices seem organic to the lives of women working in cities in the 1990’s, and its feminism and wariness about marriage make it very much a product of its time. Readers may wonder how these poems will sound twenty years in the future and whether their insights will have been overpowered by time.
Sources for Further Study
Kirkus Reviews. LXVI, February 15, 1998, p. 224.
Library Journal. CXXIII, February 15, 1998, p. 145.
New Criterion. XVII, December, 1998, p. 69.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, March 8, 1998, p. 15.
The New Yorker. LXXIV, February 16, 1998, p. 84.
Newsweek. CXXXI, February 23, 1998, p. 68.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, December 22, 1997, p. 55.
Time. CLI, March 30, 1998, p. 68.
Vogue. CLXXXVIII, February, 1998, p. 140.