Sunday, 14 June 2020

Point and counterpoint, Charlotte Gann's The Girl Who Cried

I very much enjoyed Charlotte Gann’s first full collection, Noir (HappenStance Press, 2016) and wrote positively about it last year (see here). It was an excellent book, exemplified by its slanted treatment of emotion, relating its characters’ experiences without any explicit evocation of feeling, drawing on a cinematographic approach to do so.

However, this first collection’s value is now further magnified by the publication of her second, which is also excellent, titled The Girl Who Cried (HappenStance Press, 2020), and by the poet’s provision of a counterpoint to her previous book in terms of aesthetic technique. In her new work, Gann comes at the same subjects of human relationships face-on rather than from an angle, thus initiating an implicit dialogue between the two manuscripts.

The Girl Who Cried throws off the masks and filters of the cast that was portrayed in Noir. Instead, it’s packed with intimate psychodramas that barely invoke outside elements. The poems are without titles, flowing or bumping into one another, offering us yet more points and counterpoints. They play off against each other. They inform each other. And this is why the absence of individual titles works so well.

One striking aspect of Gann’s shift in method is her move from an extensive cast of character in Noir, which included many poems in the third person, to a predominance of poems that revolve around first and second-person pronouns in The Girl Who Cried. In her new collection, the pronouns’ pivotal role is their fluidity from one poem to another, leading to reader to question identities and potential narrative threads. Moreover, they even undermine themselves on purpose within specific poems, such as in the following instance:

…And I see me. Bleak, brittle,
almost ridiculous,
and mauve with loneliness.

These subjective, supercharged adjectives and the use of the emotionally significant abstract noun are both examples of Gann’s change in approach, while the disconcerting deployment of both the subject and object first-person pronouns within a single sentence issues a challenge to any accusations of a confessional approach. Her technique implies that there’s an observer in the background throughout these poems, dipping in and out of events, as in this extract…

Being on the phone with you

is like skating on ice –
or rather, watching an ice skater…

In the above lines, Gann’s first-person narrator switches from protagonist to observer, highlighting the shape-shifting nature of experience, invoking the dislocation and alienation that can be caused by extreme emotion.

The Girl Who Cried is an excellent collection in its own right. Nevertheless, its significance grows further when placed alongside Noir. The two books not only provide us with two contrasting yet complementary perspectives on a similar subject, but they also enable the poet to burrow more deeply into her inspiration, developing new angles via those previously mentioned points and counterpoints. 

Furthermore, Gann invites us to reflect on the validity and coherence of choosing different poetic methods to deal with similar themes, showing us that her doing so can actually enrich our reading, contributing greater nuance and understanding. The process of handing ourselves over to her work allows us to reflect on the nature of human experience and on poetry’s wide-ranging potential to express it. Why not find out what I mean for yourself…?

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