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Confident. Daring. Witty. Morgan Parker’s debut collection Other People’s Comforts Keep Me Up at Night handles modern culture and autobiography with comedic elegance. She crafts poems that observe the beauty and ugliness of American life. From poems about discrimination to social media, Parker uses powerful emotions to build a sense of immediacy and definition within the collection that builds upon itself from beginnings to endings and page to page.
In “If My Housemate Fucks with Me I Would Get So Real (Audition Tape Take 1)” Parker begins with “I didn’t come here to make friends,” and ends with “I’m so real my hair is going gray, / legs bruised up like tree bark, / veins of my neck as swollen as / ripe fruit, the cheeks of what is growing.” A vivid juxtaposition of internal negotiations and external physicality dominate her poetry We see a speaker navigate life with daring resolution. What begins as internal interlocution morphs into brilliantly written visual images. As each poem ends, the underbelly is exposed, the violence about to burst. Which is what seems to be what Parker is aiming for. Questions about American culture, environment, and relationships stack on top of each other until the reader has exhausted all mental resources.
Parker extends her reach into American culture with a fierceness that excites astute criticism of the current atmosphere. Through materials such as Jay-Z, reality television, and song lyrics, Parker is confident, chiding both what she does and doesn’t understand. She points at femininity and gender roles with comical lines like, “Cinderella jams to Curtis Mayfield/ while scrubbing her/ own vomit from the bathroom/ tiles. On her hands and knees/ she’s all like, / Damn why/ I gotta be the man of the house?” The words are humorous, but there is a deep concern beneath her words—Parker has more to say that just quick quips. Her work is here to move the hard conversations of our society forward.
Oftentimes, the speaker desires tangible honesty, admitting that “Touching you on the shoulder/ is the honest I’ve been/ all week.” Subtly, Parker points out a flaw with the digital era, the lack of human connection. The focus on virtual versus real threads throughout the collection. Her poem “Everything Is Bothering Me” goes far enough to point the finger at herself and others with:
I am trying to sleep alone
you are doing whatever
I swear to God I know people
they live on the internet/ they are the best.
Parker indicts herself. She isn’t afraid of being called out on the very flaws she writes about because this is a poetry about the people, and how we need to be better. Technology and its grip on our attention troubles the voice in this collection as it pulls her into further bouts of loneliness. We see Parker attempt to disengage from tethered technology with the lines, “So I can be more present/ I am getting e-mails on my phone/ there are other places/ ways of living/ we have ruled them out,” but ultimately failing. Society has only mobilized the oppressor, not squashed it out. Through heavy enjambment and a lack of punctuation, her poems rush forward to create an incredible sense of urgency of the matter.
Alongside the social criticism and the urgency to reconnect is a tough, vulnerable voice. That voice starts from the collection’s title Other People’s Comforts Keep Me Up at Night. The title reeks of anxiety and desperation to understand the world it inhabits. And quickly, we learn that this voice, and the insomniatic habit perturbed by other’s creature comforts resonates on every single page. This is an intelligent, complicated voice who knows what it feels like to hurt. The voice knows heartache, but shades it with a toughness that can only be described as resilient in its efforts to shield itself from further pain.
Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night is a provocative collection investigating and revealing problematics within American society. Parker successfully troubles still waters of society’s lethargic acceptance of what it means to “live in this day and age.” She positions power, money and complacency against happiness, success and ambition; voices like Parker’s are must to draw our attention to the comforts of our lives that have taken away the facets of humanity.