Robin Myrick describes her debut poetry collection, I AM THIS STATE OF EMERGENCY (Surveyor Books, 2020), as “about us.” The result of an eight-year listening project, Myrick’s poems examine the ways political discourse permeates our lives, our relationships, and our imaginations.
In the preamble, Myrick says she had to be open to listening to people “for better or worse,” even those whose views she disagreed with or found reproachable. The voice in these poems is unsettling—consistently antagonistic and self-absorbed, but never clearly speaking from a specific point on the political spectrum. This collection asks us to consider our own everyday experiences of political language, and how our relationships are shaped by those interactions.
Organized like a double album, Myrick tells us she aimed to “[feature] the classic rhythms and time signatures of argument, and the collective connective of love, hate, and getting by.” The poems are numbered according to the order in which they were composed, but they are not arranged in a linear way. The “sides” of the albums serve as the organizing force, and their titles are suggestive of the book’s progression: Side One, “Bless Your Heart;” Side Two, “A Faulty Trigger by Design;” Side Three, “Because, America;” and Side Four, “This Eulogy is a Burning Rope.”
The collection repeatedly asks what to do with relationships when you know too much about someone’s views, and when their views are specifically harmful to you or someone else. In poem 83, the speaker dares us: “Ask yourself//Why you let people you know talk that way/Why you’re friends with someone who wouldn’t piss on me to save me/Why you care about offending someone who doesn’t care about offending me.” Myrick doesn’t offer solutions, but invites us to consider the prevalence of this heartbreaking experience, and the myriad ways it manifests in our lives.
The book also doesn’t make any calls for “civility,” or any other language that might negate the real harm unfolding. Poem 55 includes the title line, and other lines that haunt me: “I am this state of emergency/The one I describe, the one I’m in, a different one than you think we’re in/I want to quit raiding the spiteful junk drawer that is my brain/I try to be sane and careful in realm of the possible/But the only way out is out.” I am impressed with Myrick’s ability to strike such an unsettling tone. The collection reveals a shared darkness that is at once individual and woven into U.S. culture, but it also occasionally rings of hope for the future. Profound and illuminating, this book is a must-read.
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Logen Cure is a queer poet and professor. She curates Inner Moonlight, the monthly podcast reading series for The Wild Detectives in Dallas. She's an editor for Voicemail Poems. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her debut full-length poetry collection, Welcome to Midland (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2021) was shortlisted for the Reading the West Book Awards. She lives in Dallas-Fort Worth. Learn more at www.logencure.com.