Everygirl by Angela Dribben
The Main Street Rag 2021
$14, 80 pp
Review by Marcella Remund
Published in 2021 by The Main Street Rag Online Bookstore, Angela Dribben’s Everygirl is the delicious, painful, poetic version of Our Bodies, Ourselves, that 1970’s counter-culture “bible” for women—part instruction manual on coming of age as a woman in a man’s world, part commentary on the misconceptions (and missed conceptions) of young women everywhere, and part outcry for women to claim their own bodies: “I am Jello Butt…smooth sway power…I own this.”
Written in four sections, Dribben’s poems cover a range of human perplexities, from a child’s conflicted feelings about parents; to sexual awakening that blurs lines between self-discovery, power, coercion, and shame; to the fraught experience of being a rare female cadet at a bastion of patriarchy, Hargrave Military Academy; to coming to terms with one’s own slips and triumphs along the road to womanhood.
The speaker in Dribben’s Everygirl walks a sometimes razor-sharp and sometimes blurry line between rebellion and surrender, and between innocence and coming face to face too young with life’s brutal truths. In the prose poem “Young Mothers,” the speaker remembers a field trip to an uncle’s hog farm, where a sow falls on her own young, smashing them through the hog barn floor grating. The speaker says, we assume referring to her own mother, “All I know is what young mothers will do, when babies hold them back from slumber parties, force them into marriage on a hog farm at sixteen.”
One truly remarkable aspect of Everygirl is Dribben’s ability to show us that things are not so simple in situations where it might be easy to place blame. For example, the speaker sees in her own preoccupation with men and sex, and with the fantasy of home and family, a young woman “[w]illing to settle for home, reprieve, / anywhere it is offered.”
In “For the Boys,” a poem about boys in military school who outnumber girls 30 to 1 and take advantage of this power dynamic, the speaker is also able to acknowledge and identify with the painful experience of “[b]oys in boots performing with rifles” with “limbs outgrowing their own muscles,” whose “muscles torque on the bone until they feel like breaking. / But we don’t.”
In “The Order of Things,” the speaker remembers and understands her mother’s rages as part of her mother’s obsession with “[the] order of things,” which doesn’t know what to do with the daughter’s rebellion, and in “Consider this a love letter,” she understands that her father’s distance in her childhood was the result of “four days straight / driving a truck, quick naps on the side of 220N slumped over / the wheel, no time to even get out of the seat.”
At times, Dribben seems to be looking back with love at her younger self, offering reminders of her own youthful worth. In “Remember,” a girl and boy are on a tower in the middle of a reservoir, the girl “positioned in knees-to-broken-glass / submission…beneath protruding teenage testosterone and pride.” In this poem and others, the speaker knows that girls are not powerless but may forget their own power: “…she was born knowing / how to swim. Jump little girl. / Jump.”
By the end of Everygirl, the poems rise out of an often difficult past in a spirit of forgiveness and hope for the future, but not in a sentimental happy-ending way. In “Hiraeth,” the speaker’s husband has “installed a hole in my stomach,” where he can reach in occasionally to pull out painful memories that still trouble her. In “Our Four Porches,” the speaker and her husband plan for future porches that will welcome days, nights, family, and friends to a life blooming with “[p]ossibilities…mats of lemon thyme, red geraniums in spring” and “peonies swooning by the front steps….”
Dribben’s Everygirl is not just a beautiful book, with its precise and often startling language, its contrast between the wonder and confusion of coming of age, and its rhythmic cadences. It is also a necessary book that reminds us all of the possibility for a future that heals from but does not forget past griefs, a future that will allow us each, as the speaker does in the end, to “begin to forgive myself.”
MARCELLA REMUND’s poems, essays, and short fiction has appeared in numerous journals. Her poetry chapbook, The Sea is My Ugly Twin, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018, and her full-length poetry collection, The Book of Crooked Prayer, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2020. Find more at www.marcellaremund.com.