The Austin Chronicle

Fall in re: Verse

Raking up some of the season's poetry collections

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, September 19, 2014, Arts

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.

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