The poems of Jehanne Dubrow's Stateside ring with tension, echoed in modern, clear words paired with time-honored forms. These poems, frank in diction and lockstep in rhythm, challenge the dominant narrative of military service by presenting Dubrow's experience as a navy spouse. Indeed, Stateside appears to be the marriage of Dubrow's poetic credentials and her personal life: she is both professor in creative writing and literature at Washington College and wife to an officer in the U.S. Navy. In this collection she explores the latter by means of the former, and explores the boundaries of love: love of spouse, self, and possibility for the rekindling of that love when it has been stretched across time and sea.
The opening poem, "Secure for Sea" orients the reader for the emotional journey that the speaker undertakes as her husband prepares for deployment, deploys, and returns. In this poem, Dubrow introduces heightened anxiety and a tension that lingers throughout her collection by asking the metaphorical question
And even if we're surehe's coming back, it's hard to know: [End Page 176] the farther out a vessel drifts,will contents stay in place, or shift?
Dubrow casts out the subsequent poems of Stateside like a fishing net hoping to catch something that resembles an answer to this initial question. The tone of "Secure for Sea" echoes in readers' minds as they make their way through the waters of Dubrow's collection.
As noted, she addresses three stages of deployment; appropriately, she packages these into three distinct sections. Part 1 explores the anxiety and stress of deployment, as "Secure for Sea" suggests. In part 2, the speaker, now alone, wrestles with what to do beyond waiting, wondering. Dubrow ultimately leans on legend by delving into Penelope's powerful and ancient narrative. Not only does Dubrow invoke Odysseus's loyal wife but allows her speaker to thoroughly identify with her, seemingly as a coping mechanism. Perhaps the strongest poems of this section are those in which the speaker indeed becomes a modern-day Penelope. For instance, in "Ithaca" the speaker shows the reader the link between legend and real life, referring to a wife's chastity as "a yellow ribbon to her door," or being chased by suitors "at pta meetings . . .when she buys groceries / or takes the dogs out for a pee." While Dubrow continues this in another part 2 piece, "Penelope, Stateside," by beginning with "On an island called America . . . Go shop for bras / and lacy thongs at the px," she also foreshadows the tension of part 3, in which the soldier-husband returns, suggesting to the reader that "He won't be satisfied . . . because he's stateside / and dreaming of the combat zone." Not only do these poems display Dubrow's thoughtful exploration of emotion, they also feature her precise use of plain language.
Nevertheless, she marries common language to elevated form. Indeed, militaristic meter contributes to Stateside's mood of duty, reinforced by the reoccurring presence of subtle employment of rigid form: traditional iambic pentameter, poignant sonnets. For example, the anxiety of part 1 seems to culminate in "Against War Movies," in which the speaker states that:
I see my husband shooting in Platoon,and there he is again in M*A*S*H (how weirdto hear him talk like Hawkeye Pierce), and soonI spot him everywhere, his body smearedwith mud, his face bloodied. He's now the starof every ship blockade and battle scene—The Fighting 69th, A Bridge Too Far,Three Kings, Das Boot, and Stalag 17.In Stalingrad he's killed, and thenhe's killed in Midway and A Few Good Men.He's burned or gassed, he's shot between the eyes,or shoots himself when he comes home again.Each movie is a training exercise,a scenario for how my husband dies. [End Page 177]
This poem not only manages to incorporate cultural references that ground the reader in the immediacy of the speaker's predicament but also does so in a Shakespearean sonnet, reminding us of the corrupting effect war makes on what...