Reversible: A Cento + Review by Lisa Summe
It was 1994 and I started having this feeling.
A closet full of tie-dye shirts, a Gap Scents perfume called “Heaven”
that makes me burst into tears instantly upon smelling it. Sisterhood
is really something. Two teen girls on the corner in matching puffers.
I am inspired by them. The rhinestones. The rain.
I’m still floating on that feeling.
We were listening to the Ani DiFranco song about how she forgives
her father. I feel sad about masculinity. Being “good”
means eating as little as possible. Girls are dying out. Girls are dying off.
I kept a log in the 1990s of every detail of every outfit that I wore
every single day. I wore plaids and stripes and florals
and pushed my fingers into my bedroom wall.
Tuesday: velour stripe with jeans, sunglasses, and blood lipstick.
I dove into the pool with all my jewelry. So many things that I lost there.
I post pictures of myself. When I look at them on the Internet
it’s like a heat wave. A cassette tape too worn to rewind or play.
I made a wish. We stared at the mountains, drank champagne,
bounced on an enormous trampoline.
I read my sister’s diary. In 1990. Hand jobs and house parties
and hair metal. I was stargazing, headbanging.
It was summer. The dead of summer.
We were smoking pot on a porch
with three hot brothers with ponytails
and where our eyes go we put red candy hearts.
(Lines taken from Marisa Crawford's Reversible.)
In her second full-length book, Reversible, Marisa Crawford takes her readers back to the 90s through a deluge of details: mix tapes, Converse, hair dye, cheap jewelry, and velour skirts. Much of the pleasure I got from reading this book came not only from re-experiencing 90s fashion and music, but from recalling a kind of girlhood on which women from a variety of identity positions can reflect.
There are so many moments in this collection that I cling to as I think back to my days as a young, (more) awkward (closeted) lesbian who thought that attracting boys was a significant accomplishment. I remember that Gap Scent, “Heaven,” from a trip to the mall with three friends in the seventh grade. I bought the smallest plastic spritzer bottle they sold. The liquid was a purple-periwinkle-ish color, and it smelled like cheap teen girls—kind of fruity, kind of floral—a smell I soon embraced as my own in an endeavor to attract a crush whose name I could write on my Trapper Keeper, a name like Kyle or Alex or Eric. (BTW, you can find out here what your Gap Scent says about you. But TBH, I was not awesome and my paper route did not provide me with the cash flow to own the matching candle, soap, and body wash.)
Ultimately, Crawford asks readers not only to remember our past, our youth, but to look at ourselves through consumerism, songs, fashion—to consider and engage with the objects and feelings that have constructed our current identities. Back to the Gap Scent: this small detail took me back to a moment I probably haven’t thought about since it happened. The whole book does that. At that moment, I wasn’t out to even my closest friends. I wasn’t aware of the language I could use to describe my identity and my sexuality, but surely that moment has shaped and is still shaping my identity and my feminism.
"Crawford asks readers not only to remember our youth, but to look at ourselves through consumerism, songs, fashion"
One thing I really like about Crawford’s poems comes down to the most basic units: the words. In a world so deeply buried in bullshit, I like a poet who says what she means: “For a long time, thinking about you was the easiest way for me to get that feeling in / my chest." I don’t think Crawford would be upset if I called this book sentimental. It’s my best compliment. In Joy Katz’s essay, “A Symposium on Sentiment,” she cites Kevin Prufer: “Prufer suggests sentimentality is bad when it undermines emotional complexity. A good test for useful sentiment in a poem, he says, is to gauge whether it complicates, rather than simplifies, our emotional response to the world.” Specificity is a big part of this complexity: “I had this feeling you were on my speed dial, Jay. / Like you were the emergency number."
I don’t want to oversimplify this book by marking it as a joyride back through the 90s. While many of the moments in this collection highlight the ecstasy of being young, and while I consider much of this book celebratory, reverent of adolescence, there are dark moments, moments that warrant mourning, grief, and sometimes feminist rage:
A dude walking behind me called
me “beautiful.” “Doll.” He said, “Keep up the good work.” Maybe
when he said that, he was talking about my writing, or about how I
stopped shaving my armpits, like a French babe, how I miss Katie.
There’s a complexity to these poems that shouldn't be overlooked—they are feminist in their approach to and love of women, their valuing of female relationships and the tenderness that cultivates those relationships, and their acknowledgement of the continual ache that comes with being a girl.
Lisa Summe was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech’s MFA program. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Tampa Review, Smartish Pace, Lambda Literary, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She likes cats and running and cookies. You can find her on Twitter @lisasumme.