Reviewed by Michael Garrigan
Angela Dribben is a collage artist, a skilled writer who builds worlds that live “behind screen, beneath shelter, rain-rocked” through careful study of histories, landscapes, relationships, and ecologies. Everygirl captures a poet not only exploring the past, but building a present and planting seeds for a future.
Dribben embraces what’s hardest to embrace – the difficult truths of vulnerability and trauma. This is a poet that is as confident in her lyric as she is in her own skin. The merging of song and moment in “Consider this a love letter” where a boy plays slide guitar and sheds truth about Led Zeppelin ripping off Robert Johnson is done so with a close eye towards rhythm and line break. We see, through the interplay between structure and diction, the friction and tension between a daughter who is leaning into a boy and a daddy that can’t let her go. We witness a girl finding her way, working against the world of two men to find her own path.
This friction – women fighting for place and identity in a patriarchal world – plays out in many poems. In “Forgive those as we forgive,” we see a narrator who was a “scar[r]ed young woman, [mis]took love & safety / as something that came in the shape of another’s satisfaction.” In “Boys Will Be Boys,” Dribben proclaims that “Mine is still a man’s world” and that even her professor sees her “as prey, Weak.” Even in a place that is meant to “educate the minds of women, / there is still a man at the front of my class.” And yet she is the teacher in these poems. She is teaching the narrators of these poems and the reader how to navigate our traumas and those moments when we feel “Too broken to belong even to ourselves.”
Dribben also reckons with both the personal and public history of women’s experiences at military schools where she graphs “the maximum number of ups and downs / throughout a lifetime penetrating the feminine axis.” In a letter to C. Weston Houck, the judge who struck down the Citadel’s Male-Only Policy, she forces us to ask “What are we saying when we say, / a woman needs a latch to be safe from men.”? In a letter Sarah Zorn, the first woman to lead the S.C. Corp of Cadets, Dribben studies the lineage of women that taught her how to be the “Top cadet” that “took the gilt handled sword / for us all” and in a letter to Meagan Leavey, an Iraq war hero, she grapples with her own time in the military where she didn’t “do a damn thing worth nothing” but “kill ants living outside” and plumbs the connections between landscape, heroism, and identity.
We are undeniable parts of our past; however, as we see through the narrative arc of Dribben’s collection, by cutting and pasting the parts of our world both past and present, both personal and public, we are able to create a self we own, we love, we exalt. This is a poet who knows the importance of REmembering and REmaking. Through this remembering and reimagining we heal, we become, we exist and we pray to “let it be for this morning only the birdsong that enters” us. A writer like Angela Dribben shows us how to do these hard, but necessary things and Everygirl is a collection worth reading.
PUBLISHERS NOTE: Angela Dribben will join Cider Press Review as Book Reviews Editor April, 2021.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 1.