Review of Eve Packer, Foss Park: Poems
Eve Packer, foss park: poems (2014-2018)
By Carol Wierzbicki
Eve Packer continues her photojournalistic exploration of New York (and her own emotional interior landscape) in these spare, eloquent poems.
Many of the poems have dates, and some are even time-stamped, giving the impression of journal entries. In this way Packer marks events in the news, the seasons, the deaths of friends, and the closing of mom-and-pop businesses with a nod to the passing of time—a reassuring constant when so much else seems to be in flux.
Her perspective as a teacher informs a poem on the school shootings that have become all too commonplace in these “united” states (from “hi: this certificate”):
i have just printed out states:
eve packer has completed the
Active Shooter Preparedness
course on 1/23/18—
it arrives online with printed instructions,
voice-over, pop-up info & quiz:
& lists the three main options in dealing
with an active shooter—tho not one shooting
from the 32nd floor of a luxury hotel with an arsenal
of bump stocks…
Her writing has an unedited, stream-of-consciousness quality, like Frank O’Hara’s (see “The Day Lady Died”); thoughts seem to tumble effortlessly after one another. It’s like sitting across from a good friend over a cup of coffee. But underneath the deceptive simplicity and frank, straightforward descriptions is an impassioned plea for the dignity of all humans, whether they’re homeless, mentally ill, immigrants or trans queens.
Packer’s “still life” treatments of city scenes and intimate encounters are lovely and delicate (from “croissant”):
you’ll be waiting for me
you’ll be sitting
at the top
of the hill
it will be sunny
i will have just come
from my swim
at the Poseidon,
the tall trees,
while other poems reveal barely-suppressed outrage at our current political climate (from “we’ll get used to it”):
we’ll get used
we won’t even
we’ll get used
to the dictator, caudillo, strongman
boss by edict, executive action, fiat,
we’ll get used to it, we won’t notice
‘alternative facts’, lack of checks
and balances, erasure of three branch
government, zip freedom of press, no open
door for immigrants, no roe vs. wade, no healthcare
Packer revisits her old neighborhood in the Bronx (“riffin’ on the ‘56”) and catalogs with bittersweet ramblings what’s changed, what remains the same. She treats family members and random people on the street with the same tender attention to detail. Other topics she tackles are police shootings and terrorist attacks. The treatment is never heavy-handed, though.
Some black-and-white photographs by the author (mostly New York scenes) and drawings by Eleanor Magid complement the work’s often elegiac tone. I asked Packer about the last two pages of the book—reproduced scribblings on notebook paper with a sunset viewed across 14th Street on the facing page. “Those were notes I was jotting down as I was walking along, listening to random voices or exchanging words with people,” she said. The handwriting may not be all that legible, but this is a rare peek into her creative process—wonderfully loose, spontaneous and open to the moment.
In Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at-Large, Larry Smith noted that "his writing sings, with the sad and comic music of the streets.” The same could be said of Packer's work. I hope we will soon see a longer retrospective collection of her work—evidence of a life well lived in a city that can uplift, destroy or surprise.