A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood:
Carrie Oeding's Our List of Solutions | Frank Montesonti

Our List of Solutions by Carrie Oeding
42 Miles Press, 2011 (95 pages)
ISBN: 978-0983074717

Welcome to the neighborhood. Our List of Solutions by Carrie Oeding feels like an eccentric neighbor who shows up on your front porch with a pitcher of sangria and a plate of burnt sausages from the barbeque next door. And though we have been trained to act gruff and solitary, it's a pleasant intrusion because this neighbor has great gossip and secretly, down deep, we are lonely and want a visitor.

And the poems in Our List of Solutions are a pleasant visitor. They don't direct or pontificate.

They eschew both the staged epiphanies of the dominant lyric/narrative mode of the last century and the equally tedious aesthetic projectiness of the post-avant. They think and feel and leave it often, delightfully, at that. The epigram from Ray Carver hints at the book's aesthetics: "What good are insights. They only make things worse."

In keeping to that aesthetic, the subject matters of the poems seem quotidian, almost trivial. They muse on Roy's blue shirts. They sing morning songs to porch lights and evening songs to hair barrettes. They feel spontaneous, a bit off the cuff, though any good stylist will tell you that it takes a lot of work to get that messy hair look. But what comes out of this stylistic naturalness and rejection of epiphany is a closeness to the speaker not so much as wrangler of truth, but as a coconspirator in pleasure — a neighbor.

Like the work of O'Hara (a clear influence), the poems create a picture of a larger social world. The neighborhood is a literal neighborhood, but it is also a concept — the space and air the poems breathe. Yes, the poems do muse on who said what to whom, but the focus on social dynamics functions more as narrative placeholder for a sensibility and the stretching of the lyric impulse than true subject matter. In "The Last Barbeque We Had" the author obsesses over the pleasure of being around a girl named Angel, but the poem becomes less about Angel and more about pure celebration and appreciation:

When could we have another barbecue? When could we see Angel
and be grateful she'd say everything for us, by not saying anything.
No one else could make us feel so uncomfortable, no, unfamiliar,
Yes, that was actually our friend Cyndi who made us feel new, different,
yet how Cyndi was like Angel but not quite as good!
Cyndi how does it feel to be the next best thing!
And being you, Angel,
our you, must feel like something!" (59)
Angel is a person, but moreso a location for the meandering existential joy which is the real heart of the collection. Oeding actually quotes O'Hara for the book's second section epigraph:

"That's not a cross look, it's a sign of life, but I'm glad you care how I look at you."
It feels like an apt epigraph because this collection is all about "signs of life." People's faces loom large as an idea in the book as signs of life. Faces — those signs that we as humans are preprogramed to read with a hundredfold more interest than any book. Section III in "Prelude to How the World Works" consists just of the line "Look a Face!" typed over and over again in a big block paragraph:

Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face!
Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face!
Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face!
Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face!
Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face!
Look, a face! Look, a face! Look, a face! […] (46)
It's not just "Look, a face." It is "Look, a face!" The exclamation point denotes the celebratory urge, the lyric impulse, that shocking moment or recognition reminiscent of Pound's petals, of seeing your own existence by reflection in the other. What is an exclamation point? It's a downward slash of emotion over the single point we use to signify the end of a thought. It's a mark of celebratory emotion that, like Whitman, has its roots in reverence, or like Dickinson in ecstasy.

This collection is filled with signs of life no matter where they are found. Usually this joy is found in the quotidian. Notably, Oeding is inspired by barbeques. And why not? Barbeques are lovely things—especially how Oeding constructs them—the flow of people, the casual eating, the observation of life's happenings. Once can feel the open air that fills these poems, the sunshine, the tinge of smoke, and the electricity of people talking. I love the temperament of this collection. It is filled with joy, but lightened by a healthy distance from too much investment or obsessing. Oeding holds the world lightly to show she cares.

Formally and stylistically, the poems build on the natural repetition of internal dialogue, the zig-zag and lateral leaps of natural thought. Some injustice is done to them by chopping them up into lines or sections because they are less like a house that can be reduced to its bricks, and more a cool breeze on a hot day. But Oeding does have moments of nifty leaping on occasion like at the end of the poem "Joy":

I can beat you too.
There has to be something even better than you.
I'm sorry but I'm gonna have to sit down,
No, I'm gonna leave, drive, drive so the wind in my
Broken window that won't roll up is louder than any song on lovemaking.
I'll keep one hand out the window and one on a shotgun that I'd never own,
Yes, no hands steering.
Perhaps some day I won't figure out what it is
About my open hand that makes me smile. (15)
That ending image of looking at the open hand and smiling so nicely sums up the aesthetic project of this book, and its poems that are less heavy reflection or aesthetic plodding and more genuine rendering of experience.

Most of the book sprawls and celebrates, but in a few of the shorter poems Oeding manages her silences artfully to create lyric pause. Listen to the careful silence of "When the Neighborhood's Asleep":

He doesn't look up
Because he can't without thinking
those stars,
they're going to fall.
But when he walks through the neighborhood
He likes to know they're up there,
And it's possible they could plummet,
but more possible if
he were to look. (65)
This book has that tension of a universe that hasn't been pinned down quite yet. The light in these poems is both wave and particle. It's a collection that exists in experience, not a safe distance away intellectualizing and steering, those heavy tools that crush what they should dust.

The collection isn't all lively cascading and lyric pause. Occasionally it does indulge in a trope, like "Lullaby For The Barrette" where some of the collections larger thematic projects are brought to the surface:
She wants
a simple inner and outer, a listener a speaker,
clear wins and defeats,
a younger and an older, as she's too old to still hide from a full room-
oh that childish barrette, oh her dead fish name." (64)
The book struggles with this inner and outer. The barrette pulls back the hair from the face, but it's an artificial thing that inevitably rips some hair out with its teeth. If there is a little anxiety in this book it is in that image, but mainly the book triumphs over its aesthetic dilemma instead of indulgently rolling about in it. I want to wave this collection at a dozen others I've read this year and yell, "Do it this way! You're trying too hard."

The image that kept arriving in my mind when thinking about these poems was a bouquet of wildflowers, hastily picked off the side of a road in high summer, the many-varied joys, the mix and mess and beauty of the wild-grown, natural, plucked hastily, and fastened by only a hand. Well, now I'm waxing poetic. And this collection will do that to you because it is such a pleasure to be around that its light is infectious. Anyway, I'm excited for you to meet Carrie Oeding. She'll be at the next barbeque. Just stop by with your bowl of Mexican potato salad and your seven-dollar bottle of Trader Joe's wine, genuine and willing to be yourself. You'll have a great time.

Frank Montesonti is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope, Winner of the 2011 Barrow Street Book Prize chosen by D.A. Powell, and the book of erasure, Hope Tree (How To Prune Fruit Trees) by Black Lawrence Press. He is also author of the chapbook, A Civic Pageant, also from Black Lawrence Press. His poems have appeared in journals such as Tin House, AQR, Black Warrior Review, Poet Lore, and Poems and Plays, among many others. A long time resident of Indiana, he now lives in Los Angeles and teaches at National University.

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761