The Stenographer's Breakfast


Winner of the 1992 Barnard New Women Poets award.
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Winner of the 1992 Barnard New Women Poets award.
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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807068175
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 4/28/1992
  • Series: Barnard New Women Poets Series
  • Pages: 108
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.31 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction xi
I. Dictation
Born to Work Alone 3
In Single Moments 5
The Princess and the Highwire 7
Aunt Lillian, the Chemist and the Magician 11
In a Town Not Far from Here: Speeches from the Mayor's Office 13
The Stenographer's Diary 15
Traveling North by Car Past the Spoon Factory 16
Interview with the Hangman 18
The Sinking, the Irretrievable 20
Soundmaker: The Dictator's Scenario 22
II. Transcription
The Stenographer's Breakfast 27
Doctor Doctor 31
Going Back to the Old School 32
Doubling Up on Privacy at the Canterbury Juvenile Facility 33
Landmarks as Randomly Fixed Points 35
Living with Transcription 37
The Text Buried in the Wreck 39
The Visit 41
Etiquette 43
Barn Raising 45
What Can Be Retained 47
III. Translation
Astronauts Having Coffee 51
What's Dangerous about Plumbing 53
According to Neo-physics 55
Thoor Ballylee on the Weekend 56
Lullaby 57
Simple Distortions 59
Dead Reckoning 60
"That Electric Arched Moment" 62
By Two 64
Dilemma 65
The Way You Describe It 66
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