Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow

Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow is a collection that is broken down into three, clear sections — Cold War, Velvet Revolution, and Laissez-Faire — with a preface section — Red Army Red — and one poem, “Chernobyl Year.”  Dubrow’s narrator recalls the lives of American Diplomats in Communist-controlled Poland during the Cold War and pays homage to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the rebellion of youth before concluding in the commercialized freedom and excess of capitalism.  Her poems are all at once playful, somber, and achingly real.

From "Aubade": (page 9)

Often I lay awake to listen for
my parents returning from the embassy,
a key toothing the lock, the front door

opening to let them in, its rusty
hinges a metal warning.  Every
evening the same.  I drank the words cold war

from the water glass on my nightstand.

Her words echo even after the end of each line, and sometimes even in the middle of a line, leaving a haunting impression on the reader. In “Vinegar Aphrodisiac,” the narrator asks, “What’s sweet//without the wanting, the queue around the block/when even you are out of stock?” The lines for food in a communist society even when there is no more left, and the hope that there will be something there for them when they get to the front of the line. The wanting or the hope is palpable and heartbreaking. The poems in the first section eerily reflect the realities of the time, and there is a juxtaposition of the diplomat life with that of the Poles — “Each morning my mother’s velvet purse/wilted on a chair, empty of its midnight contents:/ruby lipstick, tiny lake of a pocket mirror./My father’s tie lay crumpled on the bed./The romance of objects–both their costumes/on hangers again, still clasping the scent/” (from “Fancy,” page 12)

There is unrest in the second section — the upheaval of adolescence marked by the rising up of workers and society against a communist society that fails to live up to expectation, a theme prominent in “Five-Year Plan.” A deep, unbidden want bursts forth in Dubrow’s lines as the communist Poles want release from their worker chains, so does the diplomat’s daughter want escape from the “crystal” world in which she lives just outside reality, yet feeling that reality keenly. Not entirely part of the communist world, but not completely outside of its empty promises. Always beneath the austere exterior in these poems, there is a burning passion waiting to explode onto the page, and while it may not happen in the same poem, explosions of light, sex, and want emerge of their own volition and when least expected.

Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow is a phenomenal collection that is bound to generate much discussion from book clubs, but it also speaks to the truths of ideals and realities and how they never meet expectations.  In many ways, the collection comments overall on the “grass is always greener” idiom, but it also highlights the separation felt by a young woman growing up in a foreign land and having the freedom her country provides, but at the same time feeling the constraints of her host nation.  Amazing use of imagery, politics, real events, and more.

About the Poet:

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of four poetry collections, including most recently Red Army Red and Stateside (Northwestern UP, 2012 and 2010). Her first book, The Hardship Post (2009), won the Three Candles Press Open Book Award, and her second collection From the Fever-World, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Competition (2009). Finishing Line Press published her chapbook, The Promised Bride, in 2007.

Her poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in journals such as Southern Review, The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, The New England Review, West Branch, Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Copper Nickel, Prairie Schooner, as well as on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.

If you’re going to be in Boston for the AWP conference in March, you might catch Dubrow at a couple of panels.

This is my 5th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

185th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 185th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2013 Dive Into Poetry Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Jehanne Dubrow from Red Army Red:


We dreamed of glowing children,
their throats alive and cancerous, 
their eyes like lightning in the dark.  

We were uneasy in our skins,
sixth grade, a year for blowing up, 
for learning that nothing contains 

that heat which comes from growing, 
the way our parents seemed at once 
both tall as cooling towers and crushed

beneath the pressure of small things—
family dinners, the evening news,
the dead voice of the dial tone.

Even the ground was ticking.
The parts that grew grew poison.
Whatever we ate became a stone.

Whatever we said was love became 
plutonium, became a spark 
of panic in the buried world.

This poem was featured on American Life in Poetry and in West Branch.

What did you think?

Mailbox Monday #207

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Suko’s Notebook.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric and her family over the holidays:

 1.  The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit partying, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of four Londoners-three women and a young man with a past-whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in tragedy, stunning surprise and exquisite turns, only to change irreversibly in the shadow of a grand historical event.

2.  The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

It’s the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford’s young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford-and Elise-forever.

3.  Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow

Displaying a sure sense of craft and a sharp facility for linking personal experience to the public realms of history and politics, Jehanne Dubrow’s Red Army Red chronicles the coming of age of a child of American diplomats in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. In the last moments of the Cold War, Poland—the setting for many of the poems—lurches fitfully from a society characterized by hardship and deprivation toward a free-market economy. The contradictions and turmoil generated by this transition are the context in which an adolescent girl awakens to her sexuality. With wit and subtlety, Dubrow makes apparent the parallels between the body and the body politic, between the fulfillment of individual and collective desires.

Here’s one other book I received to share with Wiggles from a family friend:

4. The Tall Book of Fairy Tales by Eleanor Graham Vance and William Sharp

This illustrated collection of classic fairy tales was first published in 1947. This edition was first issued in 1975, and preserves all the delightful illustrations of the original. The stories in this collection are: Snow White and Rose Red, Rumpelstiltskin, Tom Thumb, The Golden Goose, The Sleeping Beauty, The Bremen Town Musicians, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, The Brave Little Tailor, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast, The Golden Touch, and The Shoemaker and the Elves.

Here’s What I received for review:

5. The Tell by Hester Kaplan for a TLC Book Tour in mid-January 2013.

Mira and Owen’s marriage is less stable than they know when Wilton Deere, an aging, no longer famous TV star moves in to the grand house next door. With plenty of money and plenty of time to kill, Wilton is charming but ruthless as he inserts himself into the couple’s life in a quest for distraction, friendship—and most urgently—a connection with Anya, the daughter he abandoned years earlier. Facing stresses at home and work, Mira begins to accompany Wilton to a casino and is drawn to the slot machines. Escapism soon turns to full-on addiction and a growing tangle of lies and shame that threatens her fraying marriage and home. Betrayed and confused, Owen turns to the mysterious Anya, who is testing her own ability to trust her father after many years apart.

6. Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick from Algonquin, unexpectedly.

It is the summer of 1948 when a handsome, charismatic stranger, Charlie Beale, recently back from the war in Europe, shows up in the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village nestled in the valley of Virginia. All he has with him are two suitcases: One contains his few possessions, including a fine set of butcher knives; the other is full of money. A lot of money. Finding work at the local butcher shop, Charlie gradually meets all the townsfolk, including Boaty Glass, Brownsburg’s wealthiest citizen, and most significantly, Boaty’s beautiful teenage bride, Sylvan.

7. The Round House by Louisa Erdrich, which is the National Book Award Winner.

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

What did you receive?