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Lucy Biederman on Nicole Steinberg

Getting Lucky

Nicole Steinberg

Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2013

 

I might be the only person who reviews small-press poetry and subscribes to Lucky Magazine. I didn’t say I read it at the airport; I’m a fully committed subscriber. The way I see it, there are two possibilities: Either Nicole Steinberg’s Getting Lucky is written precisely for me and me alone, or I “get” Lucky Magazine in the wrong way to get behind Steinberg’s experiment in appropriating what she refers to in the book’s notes as the gendered and glossy editorial copy of Lucky.”

 

For the uninformed, Lucky (I keep typing “Lucy” by accident: surely the fact that I confuse my own name with that of a Conde Naste magazine has terrible implications) is “the magazine about shopping.” All magazines are about trying to get you to buy stuff, of course, but with Lucky they really draw back the curtain. When you leave the bathroom with a nearly physical desire for nude ankle boots, an item you weren’t aware of when you entered the bathroom, Lucky has done its job.

 

Copywriters for the magazine might not object to Steinberg’s apt, pert description of its content as “gendered and glossy.” What’s interesting is how little Steinberg’s poetic recontextualizing of the language of Lucky disrupts the magazine’s message and meanings. The book is divided into four sections, or “seasons”: winter, spring, summer, and fall. This suggests a magazine-y way of looking at things (although, Lucky reader that I am, I feel compelled here to note that Lucky comes out monthly, and makes much of the different shopping exigencies that characterize each month).

Reading the neatly composed, often beautiful fourteen lines poems that comprise Getting Lucky feels quite similar to reading Lucky. The title of each poem is a woman’s name, from “Alexis,” to “Rosario,” to “Vanessa,” “Rihanna,” “Meryl,” “Ali,” “Leighton,” “Tracey,” “Jen,” Lindsay,” and, ending, finally, on “Nicole.” That many of these names are instantly recognizable as celebrities suggests how Getting Lucky makes use of and works from Lucky’s texts and contexts, rather than—at least as its central mission—seeking to subvert them. Even by titling each poem with a woman’s name, Steinberg recreates the “gendered” constructs of her original text.

 

Steinberg’s construction of these tight, compressed, unrhymed “sonnets” is masterful; the shiny, unmatched sentences fit together anyway, nearly against their will, like the elements of a “curated” Pinterest pic of an outfit, where every element of the outfit is suspended in white space, nothing touching anything else.

 

“Nicole” is a kind of selfie of a poem, beginning, “Face it: You aren’t Angelina in the supermarket.” Its final lines seem to direct the poem’s—and the reader’s—gaze back toward the poems that precede it: “You feel like a slacker whose cool factor got lost— / always scrambling to exude that certain something, / on the lookout for any attitude other than your own.” These wistful lines suggest each of those names as an attempt at consolation through an alternate identity, even if the identity never fits. “Coco” bathes in a sense of Chanel: “With plunging necklines / and terra-cotta eyes, French style is an art / installation, anti-debutante with a retro-feminine / smattering of sequins.” Reading such sentences, elegantly wrapped across these poems’ four- or five-beat lines like long strings of pearls around a mannequin, I thought of how strangely expensive are the words in Lucky. As these poems suggest—and to my surprise—Getting Lucky seems to really be about Lucky Magazine: about reading it, why one might read it, and what there is to be found there. While its title could be a pun to mean having sex, or cashing in, or comprehending the magazine Lucky, its most meaningful connotation, considering the poems inside, is its most obvious: obtaining the magazine. That is, Steinberg’s book maintains a respect for and attention to its source material that is not often found in texts based on other texts. There are a few moments where syntax is disturbed, often to surprising and excellent affect, such as this moment in “Audrey”: “I rain / across your body.”

 

It would be interesting to find out Steinberg’s writing process with regard to her source material. The poems of Getting Lucky are somewhat reminiscent of the work of another contemporary sonneteer, Karen Volkman, whose wonderful book Nomina (BOA Editions, 2007) investigates traditional romantic-chivalric language by employing that very language. But Volkman breaks expectations within sentences, as opposed to between sentences; the effect can be ripe and shocking and loud, like snapping a flower’s stem rather than pulling it up by the root. Steinberg, on the other hand, tends to create narrative or syntactical breaks at clausal breaks.

“Catherine” is pretty typical of Steinberg’s tactics, which include surprising adjective replacement and clashing clauses: “A big / ethnic cuff and fabulous top lovingly embroidered / with forest animals lend an ineffable sexiness.” It seems clear because of such disjunction between clauses and sentences that Steinberg did not lift whole articles or sections of articles from the original text. This distinguishes her from cut-up-and-paste authors like William Burroughs and Kathy Acker, both who tend to set such “lifted” material beside material of their own creation, blurring the line between authorship and plagiarism. However, Steinberg does share with Acker an interest in popular culture and its pornographic appeal, and also an attention to meaning that can be found on the uppermost surface of language. Often the meanings Steinberg finds here have a satisfying shallow-depth, such as in the final lines of “Rihanna”: “Just toughen up—any economy has / its burdens, like blow-drying and being conscious.”

 

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