Sunday, September 16, 2007

Review: The Middle Room by Jennifer Moxley

The Middle Room

Jennifer Moxley
ISBN 1-930068-36-0
Subpress 2007
Berkeley, CA

The Middle Room is the memoir of poet Jennifer Moxley, with focus on her time spent at UC San Diego.

Several months ago, when Jennifer first mentioned that she’d completed a memoir manuscript, I was surprised-- she’s quite young, very young, when we’re talking poets-- I wondered, “Why so soon? Why now?” After reading The Middle Room, a mammoth of a book (633 pp.) elegantly designed and published by the excellent people of Subpress, I understood the urgency.

I’m rarely impressed by first lines, but The Middle Room opens on a precise note, with “Imagination and reality are forever at odds”, and thus it goes on to prove, set against the complex backdrop of Moxley’s history, as the poet’s internal and external experiences conflict.

We come into contact with many versions of Moxley, from the five year old daughter of bookish Jo on Albatross Street, to the tempestuous teenager, with “the soul of a girl deeply committed to the drama of a passionately lived life”, and finally the young adult who has written a poem and suspects she may be a poet. Suspicion is a good word here. Moxley seems a suspicious reporter of her younger self’s motivations and doings, always more critical and objective than sympathetic. At times her candid captions not only made me laugh, but rendered me shocked by their humility and willingness to dissect something as tender as youthhood. The Middle Room makes a science of honesty, and Moxley’s account leaves readers feeling just as naked (if not the more naked of the two) for its facts laid bare in the name of human nature.

I mention how the book often made me laugh. I think this is perhaps the first thing I began telling friends about the book, as it had me in fits from the very first chapter. Moxley is a fan of comedy, and herein perfects her own dry variety that is at once a voodoo blend of starkly modern satire and good old fashioned witticism.

Like all life stories, there is also much sadness, events and truths like dark clouds drifting throughout the book, animated and poignant reminders of the poet’s struggle to find peace, but Moxley is resilient in the rain, and pushes the reader ever on to the next chapter, the next wave of change that would renew her interest in being alive.

It’s an important read for any admirer of Moxley’s poetry, but my recommendation does not stop there. I recommend you read this book if you are in an MFA program. I recommend this book to those with few literary connections, looking to live vicariously. But above all others I recommend this book to those literary persons who take themselves too seriously.

Through all its people, places, and early poems, The Middle Room is consistently alert, taking in what you are thinking as much as it is supplying you those thoughts. The character of Young Moxley is as unsettling as she is endearing, and where the book may open with something like chaos, it closes with such understanding and calm, satisfying the teeth as much as the brain and heart. By the end you’ve witnessed something so pure in its sense of realism, so candidly accounted, alluringly intimate, and rich in detail and subtext, that you wish to spend several more weeks in The Middle Room, in the company of the Albatross Street cherub, the ardent teenage Jenny, and the poet Jennifer Moxley.

--Simone dos Anjos, September 2007

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