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Anna Meister

Anna Meister earned a BA in poetry/memory/maps from Hampshire College & an MFA in Poetry at New York University, where she served as a Goldwater Writing Fellow. A Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net nominee, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Whiskey Island, The Adroit Journal, Barrow Street, BOAAT, Sugar House Review, DIAGRAM, Powder Keg, & elsewhere. Anna was a 2015 Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts Fellow & a finalist for the 2017 National Poetry Series. She is author of two chapbooks, NOTHING GRANTED (dancing girl press, 2016) & As If (Glass Poetry Press, forthcoming). She lives & works in Des Moines, IA.

Blurbs

In a language sensuous, vivid & entirely her own, Meister crafts a loving catalogue of incompleteness. Instead of claiming solid ground, she litters the path with questions. Her couplets see-saw between presence & loss, between as is & as if. "All day I stitch, attempting to keep things / together." Meister's line is a thread, cut suddenly by her teeth, only to begin a thought anew, only to be bit through again. She forgoes seamlessness, binaries of right or wrong, healed or broken. Instead, she prizes intimacy, boldly turning toward us to ask, "Why is this the story / I seem to need to tell?" Each poem startles us, rightly so, out of resolution & into humanness — where we are transparent & grappling & sometimes, even grateful.

– Shira Erlichman, author of Odes to Lithium

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Featured Book

As If

What Does It Mean To Be Good? To Change?

05/08/19

Any rift in habit jolts us into consciousness. We’re not allowed to get comfortable — not that we were before.

Anna Meister, alumna of the MFA writing program at NYU and a former Goldwater Writing Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee, is the author of As If, a Glass Poetry Chapbook Series August 2018 publication. Meister frames her poems in couplets, each poem untitled save for an asterisk, implying that the entire collection is one poem titled As If and each individual is a part of the whole. The choice to use couplets reinforces the inherent dichotomy in her subject matter: changing vs. staying the same; embracing vs. resisting; good vs. bad; meaning vs. meaninglessness. As Shira Erlichman puts it in her blurb for the chapbook, as if vs. as is.

Meister seamlessly takes us through the stages of change, depression, and self-love with poignant verse in her chapbook As If, a small but necessary book of the up-and-coming generation. This whole book — in both its diction and its themes — feels entirely relevant. There is a sense that the speaker’s struggles are societal, and a product of the pressures on her generation. She doesn’t shy from the mundane or the common: “Open Excel and tighten as trash / piles up in cover letter hell. As if / there’s a point to it all. Bent diploma, itchy eyes.” Instead, she uses the common as a means of revealing her frustrations and her truth.

Meister’s first poem opens with the main tension in the series: “Tell me the difference between / a change and an end […] my knuckles go white at the word open.” The speaker is fighting change, forcing her closing fist tighter. We know, off the bat, that the speaker is unhappy yet stubborn.

She asks, “What does deserve mean?” As someone who’s been in this position — depressed and wanting to change but resisting — I’ve thought about the meaning of the word deserve. It’s a bullshit word. No one deserves anything. You can work hard and fail or succeed, but to say that you deserve to succeed or that you don’t deserve to fail is entitled. Life doesn’t work like that. People are born how they’re born and bad things happen to good people.

What separates Meister’s poetry from any other verse with a what’s-the-point, nihilistic attitude is how comfortable the poet is with the colloquial. And how comfortable the speaker is with challenging her views despite her stubbornness. As If is stripped of that MFA snobbery that often seems to aim to exclude. The speaker doesn’t claim to know anything that we don’t, and doesn’t profess any holier-than-thou statements. The diction, too, is grounded. Take the title; it’s no coincidence that the phrase ‘as if’ seems shallow — it’s the catchphrase of the shallow character Cher from Clueless. Yet having an approachable slang phrase as the title invites us in, and from there we are guided into Meister’s deeper societal insights. The speaker in the poem is anything but shallow, despite the fact that she is modern and undoubtedly of this world.

In the third poem, the speaker states: “I ask to be good but don’t / know the taste.” So the speaker’s flirting with the idea of deserve; maybe you’re not entitled to anything even if you’re good, but being good may be enriching in and of itself. Maybe if you’re good you’ll allow yourself to be happier, because you’ll feel like that happiness is deserved. This line of thinking shows progress in the speaker. Still, the speaker’s questioning is flawed. When asking what it means to be good, she wonders, What does it taste like? (much like in the 9th poem, where she writes, “As if time can have / a taste”). Yet the desire to taste it is missing the point — it’s indulgent, focused on pleasure, on the senses, when the focus should be elsewhere — but where? The arc of this book is the speaker’s imperfect progress, which is accurate to life. She recognizes her issue, fights change, changes involuntarily, and overall, tries to be okay.

By the middle of the collection, the speaker’s attempt at goodness falters, warps: “Pills twist in my stomach as I repeat the good I know. I grow / less interested in salt, the wiped-down sink, sounds made by children.” The enjambment of the lines: “I grow / less interested…” illustrates the difficulty of positive change and the natural inclination of the speaker toward apathy after the overwhelmingness of depression and anxiety.

Further in the chapbook Meister weaves themes of longing and love — “all the ways we cheated death.” The speaker realizes that these bodily desires are coping mechanisms that inevitably distract her from positive change and from the goodness she desires, but still: these are her habits, and she clings to them as they push her under.

But does the speaker ever reach her goal? Does she embrace positive change, does she give in to being ‘good’? She realizes her sadness is “sewn-in,” that it’s out of her control, like “life / as a bunch of plants it’s not [her] job to water.” By the end of the collection, she seems to come out of her depression and into an acceptance of herself: “The mundane feels marvelous / when there’s no quicksand… More recently, a hallway always / brightly lit as if we didn’t deserve the dark… I have given myself permission to be / a monster in little ways.” She redefines her narrow idea of personhood, finally accepting the fact of mixed morality. However dissatisfying that may be, since Meister writes, “I don’t know what I’d hoped for.”

This book doesn’t have a clean ending, and that wouldn’t be appropriate; if it was a clean ending, it would be a lie, or the speaker would be dead. She’s still alive, changing, and dealing with those changes through to the end. To go back to her initial frustration: “Tell me the difference between / a change and an end,” the answer is that there’s no finality in change. Having a working mind and the clear intelligence that this speaker conveys ensures constant, inevitable change. This book is about change, yes, but it’s also about the frustrations and eventual begrudging acceptance of being alive all through the complex lens of hoping for joy, which makes its pages a haven for everyone who’s not dead yet.

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