A poet and first-novelist brutally satirizes the poetry establishment, following a scholarship student through a New York university’s writing program in the 1980s.
Arriving in Manhattan from the wilds of Long Island, idealistic and breathless with enthusiasm, Annabelle lucks into her assistantship with celebrated poet-professor Z (neé Elizabeth Bovardine), whose flower poems have long been an inspiration. Z, a cold, self-controlled autocrat who blocks any challenge to her authority with the question “What is poetry?” soon has Annabelle performing menial tasks (like buying boxer shorts for her lover, the new head of the Society for the Preservation of American Poetry—an odd position for a failed British poet) but also “researching” flowers and composing pithy description notes. Although flattered by Z’s dependence and infatuated with her aura, Annabelle is not blind to Z’s self-serving ambitions and limited aesthetic. While slaving for her, Annabelle is also auditing and enjoying a course taught by Z’s archrival, confessional poet Braun Brown. Z is so horrible—not only as Annabelle’s boss, but also as mother and wife—that readers will be shocked to find themselves feeling sorry for her after Annabelle’s realization that Z’s husband has been the inspiration for Braun’s book, His Mistress. Busy girl that she is, Annabelle also finds time to begin an affair with Harry, who uses their sex as fodder for the deconstructionist novel he’s writing about his assistantship for a famous author/professor who inconveniently died before writing Harry’s recommendation. After Annabelle shares a poem that confesses a little too much about Z, Z’s family, and Braun, Annabelle loses her job only to discover that the poems in Z’s new volume are almost entirely lifted from Annabelle notes. Her revenge follows Harry’s lead: she begins her own book, titled Apprenticeship to the Flower Poet Z.
Only a poet could write so viciously yet adoringly (and, often, insightfully) about poetry. But only a poet, too, will have patience for Weinstein’s onslaught of wordplay and purposely bad verse.