Book Review: Fall in re: Verse

Raking up some of the season's poetry collections

Fall in re: Verse

99 Poems for the 99 Percent

Edited by Dean Rader
99: The Press, 215pp., $16 (paper)

In August of 2011, a few weeks before Occupy tents were raised in New York's Zuccotti Park, Dean Rader set up camp at The blog quickly became one voice of the Occupy movement, and thus this paperback anthology of the poems posted there, selected from the many more than 99 submissions Rader received, is a national historical record: sprawling voiced evidence of income inequality and corporate manhandling, and a chronicle of their bizarre and disturbing effects.

As the book is not just for but by the 99 percent (have you ever met a wealthy poet?), several of the poems bear witness to Occupy demonstrations, seen from within and as conflicted passersby en route to day jobs. Others observe those deeply, inextricably mired in poverty, as well as those in the midst of realizing that their economic class – the middle – has been whisked out from under them. Demonstrations, shelters, bus stops, and soup kitchens are places where experiences are rendered collective; strange thoughts bloom when members of an isolationist culture vigil together. The poets comprise a neighborhood watch for the people, keeping tally and record of wronged neighbors, like the shift worker in John Estes' "The Universe Is Your Country," who, despite a decade at Panera Bread, "could not make a loaf/ of bread to save himself."

The settings are stark and threaten to eclipse the people in them: In addition to the wintry financial district in New York, there's Detroit, Buffalo; past, present, future. Today, Occupy isn't much in our newsfeeds, perhaps because the added responsibilities of acknowledging, demonstrating, supporting, ignoring are too much to maintain while we're already jogging just to keep up. Like the supporter in Heid E. Erdrich's "Pre-Occupied," we're exhausted:

No time, no hours, no decades, no millennia.

No, I cannot dump cans of creamed corn

and turkey on noodles and offer forth

sustenance again.

Some of the poems illuminate one pitfall of exhaustion: the too-easy "they," lacking an antecedent. Part of the value of this archive is evidence that, collectively, we haven't yet discovered an expansive, sustainable strategy for justice. Poetry seems a good métier, parallel in quietude, incessance, and subversiveness to the currents of most people's lives, but is it any match to "them"? History will tell.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Arts Reviews
Ronnie Earle, Gangbuster
Ronnie Earle, Gangbuster
Jesse Sublett revisits Austin’s criminal past in Last Gangster in Austin

Jay Trachtenberg, June 10, 2022

Inside the Seventies Weed Business in <i>Wild Times in Old Austin</i>
Inside the Seventies Weed Business in Wild Times in Old Austin
Dazed, confused, and profitable

Jay Trachtenberg, June 10, 2022

More by Jonelle Seitz
Blue Lapis Light's <i>Belonging, Part One</i>
Blue Lapis Light's Belonging, Part One
The work's dancers, whether on the ground or sailing through the air, were beacons of human hope and empathy

Sept. 28, 2018

Aztlan Dance Company's <i>The Enchilada Western: Texas Deep Fried</i>
Aztlan Dance Company's The Enchilada Western: Texas Deep Fried
In the troupe's latest choreodramas, dancing desperados persisted and partied

Aug. 31, 2018

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle