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Exploring the Backlist: Devin Becker's Shame | Shame

Hello readers! Join our team of interns as they explore over 40 years of our publication history and share their passion for some of their favorite titles from BOA Editions. In today's post, Maddi P. takes a psychoanalytical lens to the poetry of Devin Becker.

Anxiety and Humor in David Becker's Shame | Shame.

Hi! My name is Madisyn, and I’m a Biopsychology major with a Food Systems & Nutrition minor at Tufts University (which I know may seem odd for an intern at a publishing company). As I begin my junior year this fall, my plan is to also add English as a second major, so I’m extremely grateful to BOA for giving me the opportunity this summer to explore other paths that I had only just begun to consider.

Prior to this internship, I hadn’t been exposed to very much poetry. I’m an avid reader, but generally of fiction, and most of my English education so far has been focused on novels. During my time at BOA, I have been exposed to a variety of poetry and cultures that I likely would not have read about otherwise, and again I am incredibly grateful for that. When asked to write a review of one of the books, my initial reaction was slight panic (given that my experience with poetry is so limited), followed by excitement at the chance to write about Devin Becker’s Shame | Shame.

What really intrigued me about Becker’s writing was the way he captured the anxieties of the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life, and how those feelings could be the foundation for his sense of isolation. Becker’s anxiety is well-represented throughout the work, whether he’s overthinking a comment he made to a girl at the gym, as in his poem “New Year’s Eve Day,” or overthinking a joke he made earlier in the day, as in his poem “Butte.”  I think his poem “Auditorium” is one of the best examples of the overthinking that appears continuously throughout. He discusses his outfit, first by saying:

I dressed for this, this meeting, the ‘Introduction of New Faculty.’ I picked out a shirt I thought would be a bit more fashionable than the others’; wore my nice khakis.

This is later followed by his changed opinion when he describes his introduction:

I stand and do the same wave my boss did, shrugging, my elbows in and my eyes trained on the floor, my too-big shirt billowing up when I sit, ballooning.

Me, the balloon.

Becker has the ability to inexplicitly communicate the anxiety he feels while also conveying it with a wry sense of humor, which makes the writing that much more relatable. In the same poem, he also addresses the need to have an escape, to be alone:

And truly I just want to feel I can escape if I have to, my panic having become, lately, almost constant, likely to emerge at any formal moment, even the most mundane.

It’s almost ironic that he wants to be able to escape, when the reason he needs to have that option is because he’s trapped by his inner thoughts.

Being a biopsychology major, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how the brain works, which was definitely a factor in my choice of Shame | Shame, but the artistic, poetic, and realistic description of someone’s inner thoughts that Becker provides are much more than just the firing of neurons that I’ve studied. One of my favorite poems from the collection, “Did We Learn Anxiety From Each Other?” demonstrates best the inner conflict of someone dealing with anxiety while still incorporating Becker’s dry sense of humor:

Or were we merely prone to it?

Do we form a choir? A chorus?

An exquisite corpse of loneliness? (Loneliness being the corpse’s only subject…)

Is there a progenitor, for instance such as the world’s first vampire, and if we could go back in time would we kill that person?

Or is it worth it? Are these abstractions of our bodies’ Flight Responses good for us, some course of lessons?

Will the panic Panic teaches us someday rescue us from drowning as the river churns us and the boat seals us under?

Or will we embrace and go down together, estranged lovers in hospice meeting again, abandoning our deathbeds for the lobby couches?

In writing this blog post, I’ve gained a new appreciation for poetry. Becker’s Shame | Shame is one of the first collection of poems that I’ve really connected with, and I attribute that to his subtle yet humorous way of capturing the anxiety of everyday moments that I know I—and I’m sure many others—have often encountered.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from his work that really resonated with me:

Reading says, None of us, not one of us, is alone. / Reading says, We are speaking to each other even now from our little homes.


Shame | Shame is available for purchase from the BOA Bookstore.

Catch up on your summer reading with BOA's Summer Sale—going on now! Take 30% off all BOA Bookstore orders for a limited time with promo code READBOA18!



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