In this third collection, Catherine Wagner assumes a mantle of responsibility. Each opportunity for productivity is a personal call-out; she responds, “diligent and strict.” A repetitive stretching exercise produces sectional meditations on obedience to self, and to ambition, and the limitations of the body as container, while the obligation to include others in one’s apprehension of the room, or self, causes Wagner’s slangy, spoken, and singing world of representation to slide from syntactic unit to unit, making room for a galaxy of metonymy. “Things mean, and i can’t tell them not to.” What’s going on inside is a watchful self-regard that invites eros to play. Further exploration takes Wagner close into sexual fantasy—the desire for a debased object—and the politics thereof: “Well i expect you to go into the/fucking human tunnel/i’m going.” In each of the four series that make up this book we find a female body watching itself and marking that watching with a severe wit, charmed visuals, and the analytic prowess of a born human.
Catherine Wagner was born in Burma and grew up in Baltimore. She is the author of Macular Hole (2004) and Miss America(2001), both from Fence Books. With Rebecca Wolff, she edited Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing (Fence Books, 2007). Recent chapbooks include Bornt (Dusie, 2009), Articulate How (Big Game, 2008) and Hole in the Ground (Slack Buddha, 2008). She teaches at Miami University in Oxford, OH.
“My New Job is the description of work itself. Based in argument, exercise regimens, a startling range of references, and on twinned desires to “root the mountain down” and “learn everything at once,” the book is a raucous public accounting. There’s much truth here but My New Job‘s nature doesn’t allow the luxury of reconciliation. Instead Catherine Wagner delivers the unanticipated beauty of acknowledgement—reduplications, pain ratios, contradictions, corrections, consumables, “and the things in people’s eyes.” This is work worth returning to.” —C. S. Giscombe
“Catherine Wagner’s “new job” might be the last great book of the oughts. Part of its delight is that it is not constant. Its eyelid adjusts and flutters throughout. It’s three books at least: fuzzy portraiture of energy and thought like early moderns: Arthur Dove and Georgia O’Keefe—and even like Pound, in Wagner’s familial way of tugging at language. It’s also a bit Don Juan (as in Castaneda). It’s a new age book: searching, awkward and useful too—a momentary sex manual for girls—then a dirty adult notebook. My New Job is physical, a shucking work. One picks up some spin on Sylvia Plath but what I truly felt was Frankenstein.My New Job is tinkering with life. I found myself imagining Wagner wondering what else Plath might have done—not instead of killing herself but what if she just wrote something different.Frankenstein kept Mary Shelley alive for a very long time whileAriel simply pointed to Plath’s own demise. In My New Job “The women step out, the men go in” and the edifice C. Wagner’s made seems an increasingly wider and wider kind of turning—colossal and somatic—through her own body & the bodies of others. Cathy’s Job is a joyous multiple. It’s a lift.” —Eileen Myles
“These poems are stunning, quotidian and rare. In My New Job, Catherine Wagner writes from an interior space that spies on the world, makes it a culprit, co-conspirator, an endless source of particulars. The poet too is a character in this world, and we, the dear reader, are gladly implicated in these curiously and gorgeously framed poems that take us to what we have always known to be true: the ordinary is as breathless as any dream. Rich with imagery, these poems are the body that holds the intelligence of critical desire. I am learning something here about water. I am learning about how to see. I am learning that “womb” is a verb. I am learning about the economy of time. Wagner reminds us that this, too, is the poet’s job, to hold it all, all the worlds, in language’s slippery embrace. This is a fully arrived poetry.” —Akilah Oliver