November 2006

Courtney Birst-Wyrick


A Working Girl Can't Win by Deborah Garrison

"Is this the birth of a pundit/or a slut?" -- "A Working Girl Can't Win"

A Working Girl Can't Win initially draws you in with its table of contents, surprising though it sounds. Each poem's title is listed along with the author's one sentence description of what the poem's true meaning is. For example, the title poem, "A Working Girl Can't Win," Deborah Garrison has written the caption: "She takes notes as another of her sex is condemned."

While there have been many poems and essays describing independent, working women, none ring quite as true as this collection of poems. She manages at once to be both provocative and unassuming in her words. In "Saying Yes to a Drink": "I'll claim I was a girl before this gin,/then beg you for another." She conveys simultaneous frustration and satisfaction for both her married life and her professional life -- a concept easy to identify with. "An Idle Thought" provides reminisces of the life she will never have: "I'm never going to sleep/with Martin Amis/or anyone famous."

She barely resists sounding jaded or completely miserable, and easily expresses aggravation at the corporate world's view on the working woman. Classifying them as "alpha males" while she is resigned to being a "silly little hen" in "Please Fire Me." She pontificates in "Superior," "She came to dread the way he would wander/into her office, his eyes flicking over the papers/on her desk as though it offended him/to have to interrupt tasks that were being done/for him." I responded wholly to these words, thinking of my ten-hour days spent inside my three-walled cubicle.

She also describes her father's thoughts on her, as expressed from his grave in "Father, R.I.P, Sums Me Up at Twenty-Three": "She has no head for politics,/craves good jewelry, trusts too readily,/marries too early." How easy it is to slide into these words and make them your own; suddenly her father's voice becomes every father's voice -- scolding, reprimanding, and loving their daughters.

Her love affair with her husband ebbs and flows effortlessly throughout her poems, and accurately captures the balance that many marriages have. "...None of that/easy chemistry, no quick, half automatic/flares. Everything between us/had to be learned" so she declares in "On the Road to Getting You."

These poems weave the uneasy balance women sometimes make between jobs, partners, and the daily throes of life, and I'm left feeling mostly satisfied -- as if I too am balancing these demands, fighting these battles. Her poems do not culminate with the ribbon-tied happy ending -- instead you're left wondering how she will battle the alpha males. How will she remain happy at home? These questions have no ending and often no answers.

A Working Girl Can't Win
by Deborah Garrison
Modern Library
ISBN: 0375755403
61 pages