BAD JUDGMENT by Cathleen Calbert


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paper 1-889330-24-8 The second book by this Rhode Island College professor everywhere proclaims its bad girl attitude: like so many poets of her tough ilk, Calbert likes to say “fuck” a lot, bids farewell to old-school feminism (—I can say “bitch” with impunity—), and boasts of her lusty past. If her resentment and anger mask her fears, she still manages to be funny—never whiney—about her unhappiness. Mocking herself as “the big zero,” she wishes in “Beyond the Power of Positive Thinking” to abandon her “negative energy” to be “free, calm and serene.” Celebrating herself as a “wild card” of a woman in “Trinity,” she wants “to get off, get even, get lucky, get laid . . . .” Calbert’s formal gestures are mostly of this kind: repetitive, alliterative, playing with prefixes and suffixes in the tradition of biblical verse and Whitman, whose catalogues she echoes in her own litanies of bad decisions (in the title poem), things to do after a tragedy, and a simple list of types of snow (—Lunatic Snow—). Having failed at love, and at understanding its language, the poet never gives up her hope for a happy marriage and children, though her poem “The Vampire Baby” suggests nothing sentimental in her desire. Godless, despite herself, she smartly locates the other vampires in our midst: a pleased and plump cat, the angels in simple-minded poems, and herself dressed in black at the beach. So quick to disabuse us of our mythologies, Calbert clings to the promise of pleasure in these “random, helpless, hapless times.” Her weakest poems, giddy with the details of her marriage, find her pleasantly surprised by love. Calbert speaks of woe and worry in patterned responses that begin to waver.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-889330-23-X
Page count: 72pp
Publisher: Sarabande
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999