Jonathan Harrington

Everygirl, Angela Dribben: reviewed by Jonathan Harrington

By Angela Dribben
Main Street Rag, 2021

Review by: Jonathan Harrington

In Everygirl, Angela Dribben takes us into the heart of the rural South with images of hunting dogs in cages in the back of Chevy pickup trucks, men “drunk on Bud Light,” rough lives in trailer homes, windows “they don’t intend to repair.”
But these are not condescending images meant to reduce a culture to stereotypes. This, writes Angela Dribben in the first poem in the book, is: “Where I’m from.” That is, the tobacco-growing region of Virginia. Nor is this book a romanticized look at a faultless culture.

“There are men here
who know women
aren’t good for much
except repeating their mother’s pecan pie recipe
or keeping the volume just right on the sound system…”

On the contrary, in Everygirl, the poet turns her gaze to the rough, often ugly underside of the largely marginalized culture of the rural South. Here too is the violence, racism, sexism, drug and alcohol addiction and all the other ills that plague rural America. And by way of the military academy, she illuminates how women are oppressed throughout American society.

But what is most refreshing about these poems is that the speaker is not an outsider pointing out the barbarism of an alien society. She is an insider who has suffered the indignities of a certain way of life while at the same time revealing the humanity of the people themselves. It is easy to cast aspersions on people with whom you believe you have nothing in common (as is so often the case in contemporary American discourse). Quite another thing when you are talking about your own family, neighbors and relations. Angela Dribben bravely assumes the responsibility of critiquing where she is from in these nearly forty poems.
But not all of the poems are about victims. Many of the poems speak to the oppressive tyranny of military school but also of the courageous young woman from South Carolina who was the first to apply to enter the all-male Corps of Cadets at The Citadel.

“Shannon Faulkner fought. Her parents, her lawyer Val Vodjk, ACLU.
Cadets who found a way to see beyond their maleness.
A corps who eventually found their way to kneel and be led by a female.”

But there is no triumphant ending to this story. Faulkner eventually resigned citing emotional and psychological abuse.
Sexist epithets spray-painted on her parents’ home. Federal marshal escort to campus
on her first day as cadet in 1995.

Though she felt compelled to resign, her struggles nevertheless, paved the way for other woman who later were fully admitted to The Citadel.
Sadly, abuse is a common theme in this book of poems but it is mitigated by the modest ambitions of its characters.

We plan a porch with tin roof due north for nights, wisteria trailing the edge. Roll back walls
into our bedroom, push them into themselves.
Behind screen, beneath shelter, rain-rocked.
This way the stars come inside and we sleep
as though nothing has ever happened or is happening now.

This bold book of poems by Angela Dribben deserves praise not only for its insight into lives that may be quite different from our own but also for its portrayal of people of integrity facing sexual discrimination and other bitter realities of life…
as though nothing has ever happened or is happening now.

Everygirl is really two books and I am not sure if that is a fault or a virtue. The first part of the book evokes for the reader the hard-scrabble world of the rural working class. Once we are skillfully drawn into this milieu, the poet shifts into Shannon Faulkner’s struggles to enter The Military College of South Carolina, commonly known as The Citadel, one of six military colleges in the United States. Although both parts of the book are thematically linked, there was, for me, a slightly awkward adjustment to be made managing the transition from part one to part two.

Of course, this is the kind of quibbling that critics are expected to do. But it in no way is meant to diminish the accomplishment of Angela Gibbons’ fine book of poems.

Everygirl is a book for Everyone who has the courage to look at people, places, and events they might just as soon choose to ignore.

Jonathan Harrington
Mérida, Yucatán, México

Jonathan Harrington has published twenty books including poetry, novels, essays and translations.  A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop he has lived in Mexico for over twenty years. His latest book of poems is The Frozen Sea Within Us: New & Selected Poems ( The book covers forty years of a life in poetry.