CHICAGO — Simone de Beauvoir once said, “Buying is a profound pleasure.” To shop, to consume, to purchase a new look even if it’s temporary — an air of satisfaction accompanies that moment of credit card swiping, or handing over that stack of Ben Franklins. It’s just money, honey, but in that moment before reason sets in, those hard-earned dollars translate into consumer-driven “freedom.” Not that we’re ever really free under capitalism or patriarchy, those undercurrents of American consumer culture, but getting lucky means the freedom to buy. And buying is for the lucky ones who know how to spend.
Nicole Steinberg’s petite book of poetry Getting Lucky, published by Denton, Texas–based Spooky Girlfriend Press, offers images of the deliberately feminine consumer, glossy versions of women who have it all and want some more. The text for this collection of sonnets is plucked from the editorial copy of Lucky, the “magazine about shopping.” Yet unlike the magazine, these poems are organized by seasons of the year that don’t always correspond to a change of clothes, suggesting that they could take place in high-gloss, endless summer climates like Los Angeles, Miami, and Austin. Filled with references to pop culture, film, TV, and music, the textual arrangements are equal parts Katy Perry pure saccharine, Swan Lake born-to-die ballerina, Edward Scissorhands androgyny, and the wispy ash of a cigarette that was flicked somewhere between a winding road in Beverly Hills and a white cube in Soho. Each woman that Steinberg creates is a composite of women who exist on screens and in pages. Is that the Kirsten Dunst or an ordinary woman who’s her doppelgänger? It doesn’t matter, because each woman is a mediated version of her self and shadow, of tightly clad shell and loosely fitting structure.
When Steinberg’s poems work — as in Winter’s “ALEXIS,” who suggests that “if you want more texture after you’ve sleekified, drape snakeskin all over” — they offer us glimpses of this woman rife with consumption. It’s when Steinberg drives too hard that the vignettes read like whimsical OKCupid profile summaries. In these examples, there exists a too-obviously-aware-of-being-looked-at type of poetics that flattens the portrait. Instead of offering a peek inside, these women become one-way mirrors, never allowing the reader to question what they might find were they to step through the reflection and onto the other side.
“Summer” is one of those poems, housed in the Spring wardrobe section. The lady is painted as a bohemian doll “looking for a biker-gone-boho grandpa – rugged but genteel, with an air of London street-cool – for stomping through exotic gardens, splurging on tie-dyed wedding cake.” Together, she and this boho grandaddy will be “two spicy, rock-and-roll piglets rubbing bohemian noses.” This little piggy went to market, and this little piggy went home — and then ate those hooves because they’re in gelatin and we like our easily disposable snacks. Hopefully Summer isn’t chewing the heads off those gummy bears while she’s sunbathing on the Haight Street of yesteryear in the deadbeat days of Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Better is the Fall section’s “Jen,” who manages to find “a used boyfriend on Craigslist.” She takes him on test rides ’round her doggie-proofed studio — the perfect way to break in and train a beau puppy dog until next season’s wardrobe rolls in, and she locates yet another shiny new accessory. It’s this pure pleasure she’s seeking, and it’s temporary at best.
Nicole Steinberg’s Getting Lucky is available from Spooky Girlfriend Press.