Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s books of poetry include Dear Future Boyfriend, Working Class Represent, and Everything is Everything. She is the recipient of the 2013 Amy Clampitt Residency through which she will spend six months living and writing in Stockbridge, MA.
“Aptowicz is the real deal, the genuine article, and her work is like the household product you never knew you needed, but that you cannot live without.”
"Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz makes hard seem too easy, like life itself just squeezes out of the toothpaste tube in the shape of a poem, like poems fall out, ready-made, from between the pages of old National Geographics the way maps used to and maybe still do.”
I have heard that comedians are our modern philosophers. I have heard, too, that this is true of poets, the keepers of thought and inquiry, practitioners a sort of observation that could only belong to a writer. In Working Class Represent, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, however, transcends these categories — comedian and poet — as she is both. She surveys the way in which our lives may sometimes take sad and misshapen shapes, and creates these shapes anew while also keeping her good humor on display, showing that is possible to at once grimace, smile and even laugh.
With titles like “I’m Too Sexy for This Office” and “Dear Whoever is Sending Pictures to My Phone” and “Poem Written on Cold Medication,” Aptowicz wields her wit like a sword. And then there are other kinds of poems: “Heart Sweater,” “Close Out Sale” and “Disconnected,” there is an underlying loneliness, as if Aptowicz is turning to words to speak of her experiences because words are all she has. In “Disconnected,” she asks: “What did artists do before the internet?” Without poetic reservation, she replies:
Created their art, I suppose. Or cleaned their bathtubs,
cooked their meals, went to war, wrote and mailed
actual letters, rattled in their beds with consumption,
drank until dizzy, made love until dawn, or maybe
they did even simpler things: just stole outside
and sucked in the fresh blue-black night air to marvel
at the persistence of our bright, dumb moon, to stumble
tipsy into the path of an old lover, to stop and smile,
and to apologize, before stepping out of the way
and moving on.
Or instead, look at “Sexton and Plath,” a poem that considers the way in which female wordsmiths have “ripped life from their mouths on purpose,” who have committed suicide. She writes of “what it means to be woman and poet, the long beautiful death of it.” Then, as if turning some kind of funny and curious switch, Aptowicz gives us “Ode to College Cafeterias.” She says, “They say that your college years are the best years of your life. Don’t believe it. . . . But I will give you this: you will never again be exposed to so many awesome cafeteria options.”
And this rumination on modern-day eateries, of course, is how she follows the thread back to where she is now, a worker, one more in a million with a day job, back to us. With grace, she laments, and also cautions: “For one day you too, will be 25 years old drinking coffee you paid for and made yourself, staring into your bowl of Special K and thinking . . . I can’t believe it’s 8am and I can’t just pour some fresh soft serve ice cream on this tasty bitch.”
Now, I must confess: for a long time I didn’t know Aptowicz wrote her poems down. I had always only listened, even watched. She’s a hero of the slam circuit, after all. She can hold an audience like they are the lines on her palm, talk to a room like it’s dying.
Nevertheless, I can hear her voice ringing even on the page. In Working Class Represent, Aptowicz’s strength is that she uses accessible language to say what no one else can. She navigates the world of labor and modernity with fierce conviction, all the while questioning all that lies before her. She writes of a familiar place — New York as we see it today — and yet under her lens the mundane becomes foreign, even wild. Yes, this book reveals our lives in motion, on the loose. Simply put, if the world is a question then Aptowicz has the answer. And luckily, like our greatest explorers, she has written it all down.