Tuesday, June 03, 2008

On Jane Shore's "A Yes-0r-No Answer"

I have been reading A Yes-or-No Answer: Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), Jane Shore's new collection. Shore (who teaches at George Washington University) is described on her book jacket as "a chronicler of family life," and she is that indeed, but she is also one of our most important, most compellingly readable poets. I was particularly stunned by the three poems in this collection ("Possession," "Keys," and "Fugue") which concern the death of the poet Reetika Vazirani, who killed herself and her son on July 18, 2003, while temporarily staying at Shore's home in Washington, D.C.*

Here is the title poem to Jane Shore's brilliant new collection.

A Yes-or-No Answer

Have you read The Story of O?
Will Buffalo sink under all that snow?
Do you double-dip your Oreo?
Please answer the question yes or no.

The surgery—was it touch-and-go?
Does a corpse’s hair continue to grow?
Remember when we were simpatico?
Answer my question: yes or no.

Do you want another cup of joe?
If I touch you, is it apropos?
Are you certain that you’re hetero?
Is your answer yes or no?

Did you lie to me, like Pinocchio?
Was forbidden fruit the cause of woe?
Did you ever sleep with that so-and-so?
Just answer the question: yes or no.

Did you nail her under the mistletoe?
Will you spare me the details, blow by blow?
Did she sing sweeter than a vireo?
I need an answer. Yes or no?

Are we still a dog-and-pony show?
Shall we change partners and do-si-do?
Are you planning on the old heave-ho?
Check an answer: Yes [] No [].

Was something blue in my trousseau?
Do you take this man, this woman? Oh,
but that was very long ago.
Did we say yes? Did we say no?

For better or for worse? Ergo,
shall we play it over, in slow mo?
Do you love me? Do you know?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.

*NOTE: Or rather, these are the three poems which seem to deal with this topic. Shore does not reference Vazirani by name and is circumspect with details.


Blogger Cindy Hunter Morgan said...

Yes, it is highly readable. I thought, immediately, of Galway Kinnell's "It All Comes Back" from Strong Is Your Hold (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and his ending there, with the three choices and the respective boxes for check marks. That use of the questionnaire within a poem is interesting. It simplifies something (poetry) that is often more complex, and yet in Shore's poem the simplicity of the structure highlights the complexity of the subject. Readers and audiences are surprised, sometimes, to find simplicity...it's sort of like hearing the Frere Jacques tune in Mahler's First Symphony.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

Oh, thanks for this! I'm going to go hunt it down.

11:49 AM  

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