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The Stenographer's Breakfast

The Stenographer's Breakfast

by Frances McCue
Winner of the 1992 Barnard New Women Poets award.


Winner of the 1992 Barnard New Women Poets award.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this debut volume McCue has arranged her poems to elaborate upon the conceit of a stenographer's day, dividing her collection into sections with headings that correspond to relevant tasks: dictation, transcription and translation. Yet she fails to develop the multifold possibilities along this line. Since, for instance, the poet indicates that secretarial manuals once used the term ``dictator'' without self-consciousness, the stenographer's occupation could be a vehicle for exploring the nature of freedom, power and powerlessness or the activity of replicating language that is not one's own in order to understand its impact upon imagination. Too often, however, McCue's poems are technically amateurish (``Crossing the lake, it rained until / air swelled into damp cotton . . . '') and intellectually stale (``am I dictation's instrument / fostered at the CAREER GIRL'S store?''). The surreal plots of some of the works hinge on details that remain opaque, while in others the setting is hackneyed, as in a poem that begins by describing clouds hanging like stones above a new barn. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In her first volume, McCue introduces the figure of a stenographer who is a rapt and obedient instrument of the dictator's will, a faithful conduit for the lives she transcribes: ``How can I help/ loving the chronological/ seductions of file and box?/Imagine the alternative chaos.'' When the stenographer reaches the third stage of her work, translation, she finds herself part of a process ``full of loopholes where truth can wriggle free,'' attempting to construct ``antidotes to the chaos of language loose in the air . . . and secretly thriving on the distortion therein.'' Complementing this defining progression (from ordered obedience to chaotic liberation) is the poet's emergence from isolation (``Truth be told, I can't just can't muster up/ how I get to you, so I reach around corners and become inclined/ to love what's inorganic''). As winner of the 1991 Barnard New Women Poets Prize, McCue joins the distressingly small group of women who are awarded coveted first-book prizes--one of very few avenues of publication open to new poets. This volume, with its rich structure and rewarding verse, is deservedly honored.--Margaret K. Powell, Yale Univ. Lib.

Product Details

Publication date:
Barnard New Women Poets Series
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.31(d)

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