Entering Bobcat Country

Brandi Homan’s first full length collection of poetry, Hard Reds, made me proud to be a feminist.  Her second book, Bobcat Country, made me homesick.

In some ways, it’s hard to explain why.  The setting for many of the poems found in Bobcat Country is Iowa, not the backwoods of rural Pennsylvania, where I grew up.  Still, there’s something achingly familiar about many of the characters in Homan’s poems.  In the opening poem, “What It Means to be an American”  the poet explains, “It’s picnic.  Buckets of beer, a bluegrass band, a shotgun/wedding.  Casseroles in covered dishes, sparklers, fireflies./Doritos and french fries. cantaloupe squares and a waitress/humming in the background.”  Hmmmm.  Substitute country music for bluegrass, and that’s home to me! 

Even more eerie are the lines found in “Welcome to Bobcat Country” where the poet offers such observations as “We drove to Planned Parenthood, picked wedding colors. We/listened to gangster rap in the stockroom, ate at Perkins and/Perkins and Perkins”  and “We drank in the barn, the backyard, the back room, the/bedroom, the haunted house where they filmed Twister. We/had the highest teen alcoholism rate in the state.”  Okay, I didn’t know the world of Twister, necessarily, but I knew the world of teen alcoholism — something so common in rural areas that most people really don’t think it’s a problem.

So basically, Homan’s book spoke to me because everything was so familiar.  But I liked her use of short, terse language, her gritty details.  I suppose there are those who say that Homan falls into cliché, but I disagree.  Her truths are rooted in fields, in farms, in family kitchens and in the relationships women have with their friends, their sisters, their mothers, their families.  She’s painfully honest about the lives so many people live and the in the lives we wish we had never lived.

Not all the poems necessarily  take place in Iowa.  Many poems balance the poet’s past with her struggle in academics — a workingclass background with the more “intellectual” world (as someone who has a working-class background, and now works in academics, I use the term “intellectual” very loosely.  Trust me).  In “Mobile Homecoming” the poet explains that “I saw that others, hello Professor, viewed me/as not middle class.  That I was low-middle class, or low-class/even, depending on how much cash the one doing the viewing/had.”  She goes on to look at her own past, to explain that “The boys we loved wore Carhartt/coats and Coed Naked t-shirts.  We rode in cars chased out/of town, were raised on mayonnaise” and that “I grew up in a nice house on the good side of town/with parents who once owned a mobile home.  My father shot/a rattlesnake in the driveway.  He stopped it before it got to/the dogs.”

Even if you are not from Iowa (or Pennsylvania)  I bet you will find something familiar in Homan’s world, even if you are looking for advice about poetry (see “For Poets (& Others)” published in the online journal, Anti-  In general, this is a fun yet cynical look at the politics of poetry!)   So you really should check out Bobcat Country, which has just been published by Shearsman Books.  And if you somehow missed Hard Reds, take a look at my review published at Prick of the Spindle.

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