August 21, 2013

The Symphony and the Sorrow: A Review of Julie Marie Wade's Postage Due by Hillary Katz

cover credit: White Pine Press
Postage Due by Julie Marie Wade
White Pine Press (2013)

Review by Hillary Katz

Julie Marie Wade’s Postage Due is a familiar yet unique coming-of-age journey through prose poetry. By using varying form and perspective, Wade chronicles her girlhood with the masked but overriding wisdom of adult experience. She heavily references a number of literary, movie, and television characters and actors, including the disgraced Hester Prynne, the naïve Dorothy Gale, and the independent Mary Tyler Moore, as well as real-life people such as the author’s mother and despised dermatologist. Wade connects all of these people to her personal oppression, confusion, and maturation that follow central themes of burgeoning self-discovery and sexuality.

Much of the book consists of direct letters and postcards. Although these forms are effective in portraying the struggle and angst of the speaker, they often lack the linguistic musicality and surprise that separates poetry from prose. In fact, many of the direct letter poems, such as “Dear Mary Tyler Moore:” seem to be better suited for a young adult novel than a poetry collection due to their juvenile tone and sentiment. For example, Wade writes:
Well, I like to swear sometimes. It’s liberating. And I’ve sampled cigarettes, & I’ve gotten high a few times, & I don’t think it’s such a crime. (I certainly don’t think it’s evil.) And even though I’m probably never going to be a true bad-ass like Rizzo, I’m already way past Sandra Dee. Does that make sense? It’s like I just haven’t been able to experience so many things, & now I’m hungry (starving, actually) to get out & try everything.
Although the self-realization here is one that many people can relate to, the writing’s literal nature relates more to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret than to a serious book of poetry.

This is not to say that the author is incapable of musicality and surprising language. More “grown-up” poems are interspersed throughout the book, including several religion-themed ones and a few ekphrastic poems. These sparser, “older” poems are a welcomed relief to the dominant teenage-torment-themed pieces. The uses of memory and seeing the self from an outsider’s perspective are well placed and presented in a lyrical, subtle way that creates mystery and intrigue for readers. For example, the book’s opening poem, “Aubade,” paints an imagistic picture of summer in Pittsburgh with an interestingly weighty tone. The speaker states, “I remember being born,” and ends with “Stay close. The earth is shaking / (or) / I see you, / even when / you’re hidden.”

A successful direct reference poem is “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What (A Correspondence with Mick Kelly).” The speaker’s imagined conversation with the protagonist of Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter cuts to the loneliness and confusion of adolescence in a refreshingly understated way. Wade writes, “Difference is the darkest word in this whole / hard language,” to explain the isolation felt by her younger self. In an exploration of her sexuality, the speaker reveals a surprising and intimate (presumably first-time) scene:
Under the pelt of his skin, I was hiding. I still
remember how heavy he was, rocking
from side to side. I didn’t want to be that kind of woman,
the kind that turns to sawdust in their hands.
The animalistic “pelt of his skin” portrays the rawness of inexperience, and the reflection of wanting something different than the stereotypical submissive female norm is important to the book’s central ideas—both for readers and for humanity as a progressive species steering away from gender rules.

The poem ends with the resonating line, “So this is the symphony then, this is the sorrow.” Truly, this line embodies the heart of Postage Due—the ongoing, essential process of discovering one’s self, and the strange juxtaposition of pain and beauty that inherently comes with it.

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