Garments Against Women

 

 

GarmentsCoverMy 2015 book, Garments Against Women– a small, sad book about what isn’t is available at the Ahsahta press site, or at Amazon, or at Small Press Distribution, where it has spent months at the top of the best seller list in poetry. 

What critics have been saying about it lately:

Maureen McLane, in The New York Times:

"[Boyer] has written a sad, beautiful, passionate book that registers the political economy of literature and of life itself. This sounds dry, abstract: It’s not. Boyer’s book moves as if the contents of a ­brokenhearted country song were mediated through the ferocious mind of a Hannah Arendt. Boyer offers a self-portrait of the artist in a time of “indentured moods,” debt collection, chemical spills, amid her attempts at and refusals of writing, sewing and the daily care of herself and her small daughter. Does one have to be a “property owner” to make “literature”? Write memoirs? Poetry? These are perverse questions, perhaps, but they are Boyer’s, and should be ours. This is a deeply, quietly, savagely perverse book, “perverse” in the sense of turning away: from the given, the mandated; from “things conferring authority,” the logic of property, capital, productivity, the obligation to be happy, to be “working on yourself,” to want things. A writerly book about refusals and failures, it entertains “the refusal of accounting altogether,” of any making-good-on (promise, investment, children, one’s own talents, opportunities, indeed, life). Accounting “gives the wrong forms to desire,” Boyer suggests. This is a book of poetry (or is it lyric prose? Essay? Must one decide?) that also turns away from poetry: It has no interest in meter or prosody per se — rather, it is interested in the measuring of thought and feeling, in a slow amazing and amazed rendering of the negative space of official life."

Ava Koffman, at Feministing:

 "How is Anne Boyer so good? Let me count the ways. It might be that she’s the kind of poet and prose author who makes you come alive to touching feeling, which is to say, to forms of poetry that are alive. The Kansas poet’s most recent work, Garments Against Women, released this spring by Ahsahta Press, is poetry that makes you want to write your own “poetry” at 4am; as in, it’s the kind of writing that makes you realize you will be lucky to write a poor imitation." 

From Publisher’s Weekly:

"In this textual hybrid of rhythmic lyric prose and essayistic verse, visual artist and poet Boyer (The Romance of Happy Workers) faces the material and philosophical problems of writing—a
nd by extension, living—in the contemporary world. Boyer attempts to abandon literature in the same moments that she forms it, turning to sources as diverse as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the acts of sewing and garment production, and a book on happiness that she finds in a thrift store. Her book, then, becomes filled with other books, imagined and resisted."

Darcie Dennigan, at The Boston Review:

"Boyer's is a broad, generous book, for much more than it is against. It is poetry "without the frame of poetry," without a safety net for the writer or the reader."

Raymond McDaniel, at the Constant Critic:

"Garments Against Women is a rich thicket, one bent of making the cost of its making apparent, but also making those costs worth more than just that report. Indeed, it questions the very idea of cost—whether of money, time, effort or sanity—as measure of experience."

Anna Moschovakis at Lana Turner:

From Autostraddle (about “Not Writing”):

"The best thing I have ever read" 

Chris Stroffolino, at The Rumpus:

 “Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women is a deeply intellectual book with purpose; it widens the boundaries of poetry and memoir as we know them." 

Anna Zalokostas, at Fullstop

"Drifting through thrift stores and garage sales and shopping malls, Garments Against Women registers the low-level alienation and depression that pervade the contemporary affective landscape. It’s the inconspicuous, the intimate, the quotidian forms of violence this book tracks relentlessly — the kind that demand the reproduction of life while simultaneously rendering life impossible. Shifting how we talk about the most common means of suffering,Garments Against Women reconstitutes individual suffering as social. It’s a perspective that interrupts the numbness generated by a grueling system of exploitation by allowing us to see personal problems as structural.In these small fragments of everyday life we get something between theory and memoir, between poetry and newsfeed."

William Harris, at 3am

“Some of the most wonderful writing I’ve read on happiness occurs in these pages. Boyer becomes sick, a misery remedied by mixing pills and adding Frost & Glow to her hair. She remembers misery and yet isn’t quite miserable anymore, and it’s in this narrow window that she glimpses happiness. ‘I dressed a young man in a leopard fur coat and sent him walking through the neighborhoods like that. There was a rising interest in tango dancing. I allowed myself to eat liberal amounts of fresh fruit.’ This, I think, is where writing can really delight: a portrait of a miserable person in slightly happier times. . . . the book implies waves of lived experience through the continuation of life, yes, but also through the tightness of logic, the sharpness, the stunning stretched coherence of these brief pieces. The book reveals labour, but not necessarily the labour of writing: the labour of not writing, perhaps, of tranches of time spent thinking without a notepad—‘the words of a restive me, sitting motionless for a year.’ You can sense the pauses, the accumulations of ideas. Ideas distill into figurative parts, permutated together in logical relation, and then solidify back into ideas, all in the span of a few airy pages. . . . Here, in condensed figurative form, is Boyer’s project: the impossible possible revolutionary desire of undermining the smug transparent history of literature through a new literature, ‘off the books.’”

At Mute magazine:

"Boyer tests these conditions, putting their accidents on the page because others will have to go on doing so. She probes and tests, flinching, letting go and pushing on, up and downward. Made sick by ‘the supreme whateverness of upward moving depths’(p.53) – by the ‘unconstrained constraints’ (p.12), the bullshit choice between happiness or infirmity – she senses what lies between the pages of the closed book (‘another veracity that includes conspiracy, corners, shadows, slantwise, evasion, unsayingness, negation, and under-the-beds?’(p.36)) With her mind as the deadpan-logical mouse in this laboratory, Boyer tries to invert and hollow out the conditions, to lift the real from its carefully constructed frame."

Natalie Eilbert at Sink Review:

"No one is not sewing a dress like Anne Boyer. No one is not writing like Anne Boyer who sees such actions as forms of not-labor and who sees still the chummy faces of the not-labor of literature against us. And so she writes against that ballast of omission, the terrible not. And so she writes to that unchartered other side and has managed to follow the omission of writing to the shadow of the oppressed to the stinging light of power. No one has drilled into my mind logical imperatives like Boyer—that there are books within books, a room secreted inside another room, a guerrilla intelligence swelling in the grammar of another literature entirely. I don’t say this lightly when I say this is writing capable of resistance, a resistance that ekes its way through the markets of towns and cities into the life cycle of community."

From Scout Review:

"Garments Against Women forms a compelling argument “which abide(s) by the interior’s logic” and models one kind of lyric that is “not a subjectivity composed of sentiments and sensations, but a subjectivity composed of acts and figures” (“Ma Vie En Bling: A Memoir”). It reveals Boyer as both poet and philosopher, and demonstrates the ways in which those identities resist and collaborate with each other. For anyone who wrestles with poetry’s inefficacy in dismantling systems of oppression, Boyer casts an exacting light."

Isabel Balée, at A Perimeter:

"Boyer's probing of Western culture is at the forefront of Garments, and her tone devotes itself to the lives that suffer to create a garment. It is a tone that does not to show itself off, it prefers to inform, to create details and categories."

Michaela Mullin, at Nomadic Press:

“Anne Boyer’s new book of poems, Garments Against Women, is a subtle feat of poetic mise en abyme. She conceptualizes the daily into the philosophical and, thankfully, collapses the philosophical into the quotidian. With her lyric prose, she does not spare words—there is no fear of that sort of economy here; and her language patterning is reflective of the template one might use for sewing: This is two-dimensional so that you may make of it something three-dimensional, something to walk away with, to cover you. These poems collapse her world perfectly onto the page, and in reading them, they become again the uncollapsed world—like a three-dimensional rendering of a mise en abyme painting, each frame falling into the next like an accordion: in and out, in and out (until it slips, beautifully); the music produced may not be perfectly in tune, but it is amazingly attuned.  Boyer’s work is a grand taxonomy, exploring not only what is and what is done, but also what is "not.""

Laura Carter, at Jacket 2:

"If someone asked me how I would envision a garment against women, it would not be too difficult for me to respond. I would suggest something steel and hidebound, an I-beam with little to offer the imagination. It might be a dark cesspool of factory life, much as Marx would have written about in the nineteenth century. It might be a hairshirt or a black mirror that promises no future. In one sense, Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women captures this, but in another sense, it is a book that talks with a sense of hope about what the world could be. In both senses, it is cleverly written and in touch with the details of a life spent working, hence filtered through a Marxist lens and full of the material world as much as a way of seeing escapes from the daily as part of the author’s horizon. There is so much to say about this excellent book that I am sure to leave something out."

Rob Mclennan:

 " The pieces in Garments Against Women are incredibly compact, and move through a series and sequence of thoughtfully compact and restless meditations on boredom, philosophy, sewing, reading and innocence (real and otherwise)"

Best of 2015: The New Statesman, selected by Joanna Walsh:

 “Bringing up her daughter while working low-paying jobs ‘at the edge of economies,’ the poet Anne Boyer sewed her own clothes and wrote Garments Against Women (Ahsahta Press), a lyrical essay about survival as an artist and mother in modern America.”

Elsewhere, Mark Baumer has made some beautiful animated GIFs from the book, and Robyn O’Neil reads from it on her podcast.

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You can read an interview about  Garments Against Women at The Poetry Foundation.

You can read excerpts from it at Book Forum, The Poetry Foundation,  The New Inquiry, and the poem  “Science Fiction” at the Poetry Society of America.

If money’s tight, or you live somewhere that shipping is prohibitive, or for whatever reason you can’t get ahold of the book — I would be happy to send you a PDF.  Just write me an email at anne boyer at gmail dot com.