Dear god! Should have been all I could say about this (by: Chris Muravez)
Rigger Death & Hoist Another by: Laura McCullough (ISBN: 978-1-937854-29-4, Black Lawrence Press, $14)
A professor of mine once said of writers, “We are witnesses” and this line of thought can be felt throughout Laura McCullough’s new collection of poetry Rigger Death & Hoist Another. McCullough has an intellectual and realist personality whose affectatious nature helps to bridge the gap between an academic life and a working class mind. I had the great fortune of meeting her last year at a reading here at Sierra Nevada College. The wisdom and love of life she presented to us has affected me greatly, and can be found throughout much of her works.
The theme of a life worth living is prevalent in her first section titled Membrane where she give us a glimpse of an existence floating and observing the various facets of life that can be found in this world. Of the scottish rigger in the collection’s namesake poem she writes “Oil is distilled, too, as are memories” leads into her ability to create a connecting thought when she continues with:
why we hoist another one, nosing and tasting,
taking sips and rolling our lost
histories around the tongue, so they penetrate-
the scarred membranes
hidden inside our mouths
Here McCullough demonstrates the ability to make deep philosophical connections through the seemingly simple act of enjoying a drink. Like Proust with booze. Yet this collection goes beyond that and delves into the reflective realms of C.K. Williams or Sharon Olds. McCullough has injected her works with academic certainty coupled with the wisdom of a woman who has never lost the spark for life. The second section of her work, Dandelions, presents us with the different seeds she has sown throughout her life. Talking about one’s children has been a focus of many poets and has been accomplished in various ways. There is always a lingering doubt within a parent’s mind about how well they raised their family. More often than not, this question is asked straight forward in a confessional looking for absolution from the audience. Yet McCullough has the wisdom to know that nothing is stagnant, and to attempt a redemption from an anonymous audience is foolhardy. Rather, her focus is more on a presentation of what her contribution to our world is. About her son she writes “his body like a ball soaring over the green of this unspeakable world.”
In They Dream of AK-47s she writes about her son’s experiences with a hunting club, a topic long held in reserve for masculinity. Destroying these gender barriers through paternal pedagogy, she gives her son a book of poetry:
Then, on his twenty-first birthday,
Hunter reads one of Jack’s poems out loud.
I ask him what he thinks of it,
but he refuses to comment silence
he’s learned how to shoot.
Everyday, I tell Hunter I love him.
Everyday, he says, Hush Ma, I know.
This example shows her formatting; a style whose enjambed lines, indented line breaks, and singular words that put a thought or sense into the reader’s rearward thoughts, that connects seemingly unconnected and disjointed themes in a logic of a poetic witness.
In the last section of the book, The Door, McCullough continues her process of presenting the world in a way that only a poet can. She connects multiple themes that have presented themselves throughout into an almost omniscient commentary that is unwavering, unforgiving, and fearless. “What we need is a queer god” is her claim in Queerness Means Questioning Mythical Norms. I can’t help but love everything about this line. The audacity of the claim would leave spineless readers running for the door. The notion of being able to replace gods at will gives us the power over them. It is a complete reversal of hierarchies, gender norms, and theology. This, in a sense, portrays McCullough’s writing, personality, and wisdom at its best.
McCullough has given us an unapologetic work designed to provide commentary, tell a story, and confess without turning into a banal mewling that so many poets fall into. Too often. Yet her sass is coupled with a unique tenderness that comes from a knowledge only gained through experience. This tenderness is one that gives hope, determination, and foresight to all witnesses of our time. She has challenged everything from parenthood, gender, hierarchies, capital, and faith. Her challenges are that of questions more than critiques. And in questioning she is able to present a universal hope for the future as she writes in The Flags We Raise:
When I say beautiful boy, a flag
is raised in in my chest
that belongs to no country,
but the one all hostages to fortune live in,
one with no boarders
which can not be escaped from,
and of which there is no government,
only taxes, death, and
of course, what pleasures
we can steal along the way.
Chris Muravez is a near 30 college student because he spent way too much time mucking about in the military. He doesn’t regret it; well, at least not as much as what he ate for dinner last night. He likes reading Proust, shopping for sweaters, and laughing in the back of his mind when people challenge his “manhood” for those things. He currently writes poetry and is on a never-ending quest for the perfect pair of wingtip boots.