David Herrle reviews Border Crossings by Lynn Bronstein
published by Instant Publisher/Lynn Bronstein
45 Pages, $7.00
The customs man said "Bronstein?
Like in Frankenstein?"
"Yes," I said.
- from "Border Crossings" (title poem)
Lynn calls for men to disarm war missiles and and offer sizable, "tingley-est" erections instead. She recites sixteen ways for leering men to address her breasts (after long-nosed Cyrano). She marries "a Cuisinart that keeps kosher". She appeals for abortion rights to George Bush by claiming that terrorists raped her and the fetus is Al-Queda who "is at this moment planning conquest". Need I say more? Review over! Well, not quite yet.
Despite her...testicular (you figure that reference out) manner, occasional bluntness, and brashness, I wouldn't call Bronstein's poetry shocking. Shocking belongs in the realm of surprise. But Bronstein's entire attitude, her poetic approach, is evident. She doesn't "play around". Border Crossings doesn't graduate to an "edgy" level; it opens without polite prologue. If the reader is one to read tables of contents, he/she sees that the first piece is called "The Great Whore As Mortal Incarnation Within Me Shouts This Through Loudspeakers Into The Ice Cubes That Float In Men's Drinks In Bars". The tonal expectation is set. And it's confirmed with the opening line (in capital letters): "NOW I DESERVE THE BEST I SAY/MEN ARE NOT WORTHY OF ME".
Personally, I'm not easily offended by jest or even sincerely insulting opinions. Political Correctness is unwelcome on my doorstep, so I take even uncouth and vulgar statements and actions in stride, for the most part. So when I, as a man, hear or read male-critical and/or anti-male sentiments, I don't get too flustered. Admittedly, I slightly suspected that at least a few "left" hooks at men would be thrown before I reached the last page of Border Crossings (a knee-jerk assumption). But I judged Bronstein's wonderful mixture of humor and basic outlook by the first poem. And the book, thankfully, didn't degenerate into an indictment against males -- as many modern females' works tiresomely tend to do.
I sense a fundamental respect and attraction to men in Bronstein. "The Great Whore", if properly read, seems to be a celebration of men as well as female assertion. Another misguided tenet of astray "feminism" these days forbids women's delight in men, discourages acceptance of chivalry, masculinity, and even male attention. Bronstein, though writing as a confident female individual, proudly revels in a fantasy of doting men -- but she doesn't condone or wish for jerks. These men must "stop wars", "never lie", "to listen to me", "to resist the shedding of blood", "to sing songs for me" and "to write poems to me". In "Cloud Zero" she delights in kissing a man, "the texture of a man's skin", his "sweet roughness"; she appreciates and trusts. Such honesty, complaints tempered by praises, is exactly what's missing in too much modern literature, especially in the female arena. I think female writers may fall into a pigeon-hole, mistaking skipping-record misery for "feminist" empowerment. While abuse by males was/is a very real problem in society, the field of inquiry seems skewed against men in general -- while abuse by females is often excused or lauded due to the fad of social vengeance fuelled through mass blame (rather than particular judgments against true perpetrators of abuse).
Bronstein, however, is both unique and unfettered by such popular lip-service. Consider, for instance, a piece called "Boys Hit -- Girls Cry". At first pitch this title can seem to set up a typical diatribe of gender conflict, using the often overblown belief that males are all force and women are all emotion (which is grossly inaccurate). But Bronstein doesn't resort to cheap gimmicks; she wouldn't stoop to the "same old" sermons. Reading further, this becomes evident.
She presents popularly recognizable differences and prescriptions (physically and socially) between boys and girls: girls mindful of their skirts and their crossed legs, mysterious menstruation, "boys who cry get hit", "girls cry", tough girls don't cry, boys grow up into men who "hit on" women, pink for girls, blue for boys. Tension arises from girls and women telling themselves that boys hit and can't cry, but if girls hit they end up crying. So the disparity continues into adulthood, possibly causing inaction by women who are hit by men (by cruel words or hands). However, "it's the new century", Bronstein notes, where pink and blue can mix, where cruel men can be denied. And an additional realization surfaces in the modern, female narrator: men can and do cry -- and women can make men cry. This realized effect, this corruptible power, should not be used to hurt men any more than women should be hurt.
Border Crossings submerges into important, heavy topics, but also surfaces for air, inhaling more frivolous moods. For instance, there's a poem entitled "I Married A Monster From Outer Space (And The Sears Catalogue)". Later there's a poem called "Bones And Ashes", about her Jewish ancestors who died in Treblinka and Mae Donnick and Jews' haunting heritage. One poem is dedicated to Pam Grier, another ("10 Steps") is the vacillating hope and despair of an alcoholic. And who can fault the bravery of calling a poem "Ode To Fat Girls"?
"James Bond Makes Love To Rosa Kleb" is one of my faves. Rosa Kleb was a villainess in 1963's From Russia With Love, a woman who wielded poison shoes. Bronstein imaginatively extends Kleb's psychology (that conflicts with her mission to kill James Bond). She's miserable; she thinks she's ugly; she craves happiness and attention; she'll even role-play for Bond if he closes his eyes: "be Garbo as Ninotchka". In her frustration with herself she kicks the bed, briefly forgetting about her secret weapon.
The title poem, "Border Crossings", is a poetic rambling, apparently during the narrator's trip over the border to Mexico and back to the U.S. The purpose of the trip? Probably just to cross the border, to do something different, to drift from the frustrating ado here in "terror"-stricken America. She contemplates the pertinence of her own name, "Lynne. Line. Linea/La Linea", realizing that her name means border! What a cool play on words, what a cool way to illustrate a woman not only crossing out of her country but also out of herself for a spell. But when she stops in a hotel room she doesn't find ideal solace or exotic revelation. She resorts to watching The Three Stooges in Spanish. A plane hurries her home, and she's whole again ("I have a name again"), yet changed.
Despite personal complaints about some textual format choices, I think the book is a worthy achievement. Even the cover design, seeming half-assed at first, is cleverly done, essential, and a very cool idea. The closing poem, though, caused me to want more; not more after, but more before. The transition from "Beat And A Half" to "Thank You Dubya" is fine, but I think at least a couple pieces should have brought the reader to "Bones And Ashes". (Perhaps Lynne saw the question of rights at the end of "Dubya" to be adequate seque into burned bodies, which are the ultimate results of government monopoly of rights/force.) Of course, some poems were weaker than others, as in all books. I believe several kick-ass pieces can hold an entire work, so Lynne was nowhere close to failing.
To close, I'd like to share another of my faves called "A Parable", a piece that peculiarly stands out in the book. It also, according to my interpretation, exhibits a keen insight about gender/societal folly. The First Man doesn't appreciate a genuine jewel (woman), favoring a "gaudier glass imitation" (a bimbo), and casts it away. A Beggar finds the jewel and appreciates its worthiness. But the jewel, growing "legs born of lust", flees to The First Man instead. The age-old scenario!
The First Man
Discarded the jewel
Preferring a gaudier
The Beggar who followed
Gladly scooped up
The genuine Jewel
For he saw its true worth.
But the Jewel
Scampered out of his hand
And with legs born of lust
- review by David Herrle 8/2004
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