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Poetry Book Review:

Drawing Outside The Lines

by Ann McGovern

drawing outside the lines ann mcgovernAnn McGovern is no stranger to being published. She has more than 55 books for children published and one of her earliest, STONE SOUP, published in 1967, is still in print. She enjoys a worldwide audience with various translations to her name. But poetry is something new for McGovern after 45 years of writing and publishing.

So is she any good?

Drawing Outside the Lines is McGovern's first book of poems, but it would be truer to call it a chapbook as there are only 28 pages and 25 poems within. I have always been a quality over quantity kind of reader so the size of the book is not the matter. Is it any good?

To be sure, McGovern brings her characteristic writing style to her poems. Simple and brief, each poem is a reflection of Ann McGovern's view of the world post-kid lit.

It's hard to say anything really bad about them. They are often personal without being sappy, reflective without bogging down into navel gazing, and witty without being comical. McGovern is deep and commands empathy in her readers, but it would be a mistake to say the poems do not possess some weaknesses.

For starters, I love the cover. But it is incongruous with the poems that it reflects. There are no references to drawing within the poems and I would hardly refer to them as kid lit. In fact, I wouldn't let anyone under the age of, say, fifteen read “Look At Me Now”, which drops the f-bomb like an well-planned terrorist plot. The poem is easily the best poem in the book, the narrator assuming the persona of Adam in the Garden of Eden and reflecting upon his relationship to Eve.

Ann McGovern is not afraid to approach difficult topics like sexuality and the death of her husband and she does so without getting overly graphic or grotesque. Her sensitivity to language is apparent even when a poem fails – which doesn't, thankfully, happen too often.

I was distracted by her lack of question marks in appropriate places, but that could just as much have been an editor's oversight as the poet's.

Aside from the incongruity mentioned in the book's cover and title and the contents of Drawing Outside the Lines, some misplaced punctuation, and a few poems that don't live up to this reader's expectations, there is not much else to criticize. For a first effort, Drawing Outside the Lines is not a bad poetry chapbook, though readers of McGovern's childrens books may be disappointed if they expect the poems to be targeted toward the same audience. Some of them do deal with mature themes.

The best way to give you a sense of what to expect is to let a poem speak for itself. Here is “Look At Me Now” with its surprising language and even more surprising ending:
I was doing fine in my way - whacking off, a sheep or two, when the Big Guy puffed out of a cloud, beat me to the ground, grabbed one of my ribs, and before I was healed, sashayed a dame into my space. Madam, I'm Adam, I said to Eve. I was never good at word games. In my time, words were grunts - meat, stone, fuck. I did it with Evie. We got good – so good that paradise became a cliché. Folks yearned to be there still. No lawns to mow, no marrying wrong. Hey, I got to know all about that! I tell you the Big Guy needed glasses. If anyone shouldn't walk around naked, it was Eve. Tits down to here, stringy hair and thighs like tree trunks. She didn't smell so good, either. One day the snake slithered in. Eve bit into a juicy apple and the Big Guy took away my paradise and put shame., nag and bitch in its place. I had an early death, thanks be. But I live on as a marble statue here, a comic book there.
Most of the poems in Drawing Outside the Lines are more subtle, but few are as good. And I'll leave it at that.

Order your copy of

Drawing Outside The Lines
by Ann McGovern


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