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Buzzed Books #30 by Amy Watkins

Patti White’s Chain Link Fence

Chain Link Fence

Some reviewers have called Patti White’s Chain Link Fence (Anhinga Press, 2013) a “post-apocalyptic” book, and it does have that sort of imagery. Most of the short, numbered poems include disjointed lists of objects either broken or hauntingly out of context: “a washtub, Pick-up / Sticks, four stones in a cardboard box.” There’s falling ash and peeling skin and wild dogs–very apocalyptic stuff–yet I kept thinking less of The Road and more of impoverished places and people I’ve known in the rural South.

The poems follow Lucy, a person of indeterminate age, as she wanders a ruined landscape in a sort of dream state. In poem 9 there is a hint of some cataclysm in the “abandoned military vehicles” Lucy sees outside the window, but the poem goes on: “The / kitchen rings around her too…. This is is not an earthquake…but / perhaps a precursor to something that shatters / inside her…” In poem 35, “Lucy walks in the scent of her dreams,” and in poem 47 “jasmine and roses bloom in her head.” Is the apocalypse she experiences the result of nuclear disaster or drugs and mental illness? Does it matter?

For two years in college I worked as a transcriptionist in a forensic psychologist’s office in Polk County, Florida, typing reports on competency to stand trial and sanity at the time of the offense. As I read Chain Link Fence, I found myself thinking of those litanies of abuse, addiction, petty crime, and mental illness. I remembered the glassy-eyed men and women I used to see on the drive home through Davenport–the birthplace of crank, the drug of choice of miserable self-destructive rednecks before some horrible genius invented crystal meth. I could easily imagine their longing for “anything delicious or sweet, / some piece of life left precious and unbroken.”

The poems are brief, which is a wise choice, I think. Long poems in this vein might feel heavy-handed. Instead the short pieces build on each other in an almost cinematic, fragmentary narrative. Although the book has welcome moments of lightness, I’m reluctant to call any of the poems hopeful; Lucy and the other characters are not getting out of the apocalypse alive.

Pair with: a chipped glass of moonshine–not the trendy stuff they sell in Total Wine that tastes like a McDonald’s apple pie soaked in lighter fluid, but the kind that comes in a washed out mayonnaise jar, pressed upon you by a person whose very benevolence is terrifying.

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Amy Watkins

Amy Watkins grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. Her chapbook, Milk & Water, was published in 2014 by Yellow Flag Press.

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