There’s a genre of poetry that I like to think of as “throwing cans of Pabst off a Brooklyn apartment building roof.” Like Justice Stewart on porn, I know it when I see it. It basically celebrates being young, clever, and annoyingly-but-not-devastatingly destructive. It celebrates being cooler than you. These poems might include a few funny moments, but usually add up to navel-gazing. After reading the first line of Randolph Pfaff’s poem “Dear Jeny,” I thought a cheap can of beer might appear sailing into an alley, but I was wrong, and I apologize.
“Dear Jeny” begins, “I know this is your name because I read it on your embossed name tag.” There’s a sly flippancy in this opening. We soon know that we are in a hardware store, and that the speaker is obsessed with this woman he knows nothing about except that he likes her ponytail. Then the flippancy ebbs, and the poem becomes about escaping ourselves, the selves we never thought we’d be. The ones stuck in the same rundown place or job. Not better than you, but the same as. There’s a brutal honesty to the speaker’s admission that he thought he would be someone else, and no one—however fine her ponytail—can change that.