Sep 7 2020
Poetry review – CAMILLE COMES UNGLUED : Charles Rammelkamp reviews a character-based chapbook by Jennifer Lagier
In the fourth volume in Jennifer Lagier’s series about Camille, her radical femme fatale character, the overtones of Philip Roth’s Zuckerman Unbound cannot be ignored. In both, the protagonist is driven around the bend by forces, not the least erotic, that overwhelm and enrage. First introduced in Camille Verité, Lagier’s protagonist has always been a bold and bawdy woman with a take-no-prisoners attitude. In subsequent collections – Camille Abroad and Camille Mobilizes – she’s become increasingly militant as political circumstances in the United States have become more extreme, and age has increasingly become an exacerbating condition.
Camille Comes Unglued opens with an epigraph from the legendary feminist, Gloria Steinem (“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”), and indeed, from the very first poem, “Tiny Agonies,” we see Camille getting pissed off (“She is fed up starting every morning / with elevated blood pressure”) – owing to the grim daily news from Washington, and only a few poems later “she morphs / into vindictive, fury-pumped beast.” (“The Beast”)
In “Goddess-zilla Gets Woke,” we read that “Rage bubbles inside her,” and a few poems later, in “Edges,” “She transforms into tough Amazon, / her lean physique, a taut, knuckled fist.” Finally, in the title poem, the pious misogyny of a Southern anti-abortion politician sends her around the bend.
Camille listens to a procession of smug, self-righteous old guys pontificate on the sanctity of the pre-born, discovers she is fresh out of fucks to give, grows increasingly livid with rage.
“No Resistance, No Thoughts of Their Own,” a rant about the racist-in-chief, Moscow Mitch, Sean Hannity and Faux News, ends on the reflection: “This is how democracy falls.” Camille is seething.
But politics aren’t all that’s got Camille down. A septuagenarian, the indignities and betrayals of the aging body also consume her. As Leonard Cohen famously sang in “Tower of Song,” I ache in the places where I used to play. This is the reality Camille faces. The poems, “Her Golden Years,” “The Dead-Before-Death Gang,” “New Complexities,” and “Love Beds” are all meditations on this theme. The poem “Turned and Walked Away” begins:
Camille’s fire has burnt itself out. Lovers who once left her aching now fail to satisfy, just piss her off.
Yes, Camille is pissed off. Will she be set free? In “You Grow Transformed” she reflects, “When sexy men approach, / latent estrogen flares.” But later in the poem:
In bed, however, intimate body parts no longer fit together smoothly, bring sensual pleasure as in the past.
But Camille does not go postal. She does not give up. In the final poem, “Your Friends,” she considers her cherished friends and the meaning they bring to her life. “They have each other’s back, listen without judgement.”
Can’t imagine life without this sisterhood of sympathetic soulmates, irreverent friends.
So don’t worry. Camille may have come unglued, but she is unbowed and unbound! She’s just biding her time. She’ll be back….