Megan Boyle’s writing has been featured at Vice, Muumuu House, and Thought Catalog, among various internet outlets. Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee is her debut poetry collection.
“[A] remarkable debut both painstaking and unpolished, earnest and unassuming, plain, poetic, moving, self-conscious and, above all, real.”
"This book is dark and electric with all the immediate, physical anxiety of being female and, beyond that, human. It’s a totally fascinating downward spiral through sex and television and pills and blogging and love and alcohol, strangers and friends and despair, all knit together with tender emotional realness."
“[A] type of honest far more true and grim than Tina Fey-style witty self deprecation.”
Once upon a time I was a poet. I listened to music until I cried and read poems until I cried and sat at the edge of any body of water I could find and cried.
Then a few things happened:
1. I went to a writing conference in Prague and some girl said that I only wrote poems about men who didn’t love me.
2. I wrote the worst collection of poems that has ever been written. It was about, one could argue, men who didn’t love me.
After that I didn’t write a poem (or anything) for two years.
When I came back to writing (or did it come back to me?), I wrote fiction. There, I thought. See this? No one can accuse this of being about me.
Of course everything that we write is about us, even if it’s not: the mother who has an affair, the man sitting by his dying wife’s bedside, the child yelling to be heard by her deaf mother. I know this now.
What I came to love most about writing fiction was the space it allowed. I had a poetry professor in college who handed back our poems with lines through every “unnecessary” word — articles, prepositions, conjunctions — until our poems were unrecognizable, as our own and as English.
At the end of our last class he gave us an assignment to write a poem without any unnecessary words. No articles. No prepositions. Nothing that didn’t absolutely have to be there. I came in the next day with a prose poem containing only words he had forbidden. I thought it was an interesting take on the assignment. He didn’t. He thought I was snubbing him. That I was being obstinate. That I was looking for attention.
I wasn’t. I was trying to write a decent goddamn poem.
What I love, then, about Megan Boyle’s Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee is the space in her poems. There isn’t the compression of syntax or the insistence on figurative language that is present in what most people call “poetic.” The poems lollygag. They travel aimlessly from fleeting thoughts of past lovers to a list of lies she has told in her life.
A poet friend of mine told me that a new trend in poetry is to write poems without purpose. You just write what’s real and what’s happening because it’s real and it’s happening, not because it’s particularly beautiful or poignant. You don’t assign meaning to it. It is on the page because it is happening, and because it is.
Of course, as a student of literature, the premise that words on a page could have no meaning goes against everything I’ve studied and argued and found compelling about literature. But let’s go with this notion for a second. Let’s just let these poems exist because they do. They’re irreverent:
"i want to hang a piñata full of emotionally damaged lobsters between a high school and a pond"
And they’re funny:
"last night I slept next to ‘a good school’ by richard yates. i only wore underpants. i fell asleep with a Kleenex up my right nostril. when I woke up i thought ‘i am fucked’ and ‘this is probably how a lot of lonely computer programmers fall asleep’"
While reading these poems I was reminded of a passage in Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall about ordinariness and art:
"Gus the [limo] driver is everywhere and yet he appears nowhere, not in portraits or photographs, not even in the stories of men like Barthleme and Carver, who were all about guys with jobs and prospects like Gus’s but who insisted on more sorrow, more angst, than Gus remotely manifests. If Gus weeps sometimes for no reason, if he stands despairing in the aisle of Walmart, it is not apparent in his daily demeanor."
What is so good about Megan Boyle’s poems is how it captures what “beauty” and “art” purposely leave out: how weird it feels to go down on a girl, cast changes on ER, falling asleep with a Kleenex in your nose, being lactose intolerant. These poems are literal and unexciting, and I mean that in the best way possible. They shirk romanticism and refinement and grandiose depictions of nature or human experience. They capture just how goddamn boring and unsentimental life can be. They exist in the reality of moments that most writers isolate and later manipulate into art.
(I’m doing it right now. I’m not being honest. I’m not telling you, as Megan Boyle would, that I’m sitting on my couch with my dog snoring beside me in his bed that smells because I haven’t washed it in the three years since I’ve had him. No. I’m writing. I’m revising sentences so they sound beautiful. I’m repeating words and images to deepen the emotional resonance of this review. I’m using parallelism in my sentences [right this very minute!] to build to a climax that will be perfectly poignant, rhythmic, repetitive, and, if I’m lucky, connected to the clever anecdote I used at the beginning. Here I go:)
Megan Boyle’s poems are unattractively true. They are courageous and unflaggingly honest. They detail that which poetry shamefully misses: the nose picking, the STI’s, the contents of our daily food consumption. They linger, unabashed, among the articles and prepositions that may not be as beautiful, but are just as much a part of our language and our lives.