I tell my freshmen-comp classes that anecdote, when written clearly and concisely, is effective because of the personal element it adds. I suspect Ann Curran feels the same: Her first collection, Me First (Lummox Press), trades in 101 pages of first-person poems detailing a life of encounters with writers, pols and celebs as a freelancer for various Pittsburgh publications.
Curran's work is mostly straightforward free verse whose simple language mimics that of reportage, albeit in ways that often focus on the peripheral details of an interview or experience only now making it into print. The subjects of several poems are royalty in these parts, with Dan Rooney, Mr. Rogers, the Hillmans and Paul Mellon each getting a turn in Curran's spotlight, where she rejects PR spin in favor of humanizing her subjects, for better or worse.
In "Me and Andy Warhol," a meeting with the pop-art master leaves her speaker less than impressed: "We check out his workout spot with girly weights, / watch him react to the scorn of students, / conduct a brief interview on the way / out the door as he constructs a wall / with monosyllabic yeses and noes / to hide the person he is, was, will be ..."Curran's is a speaker who seems intent on divulging something personal about these subjects, even if it's only that they're thin-skinned and egotistical.
However, this treatment cuts both ways, showing society's uneasy and fleeting views on fame, as Curran dishes on out-of-date stars like Barbara Bosson and Jack Klugman. The tone in some of these poems is gossipy, but who among us doesn't like to tell of brushes with glitterati, especially in the 'Burgh?
Yet while these poems might appeal to some, it's the poet's treatment of lesser-known subjects that has more emotional heft. In "Me and the Fish Lady," Curran writes, "She comes by bus from Carrick / with two carry-ons stuffed with clothes / and makes a Laundromat of the Y." The subject here seems more worthy of poetic treatment than others with greater name recognition. This same Y is the setting for "Me and Barack Obama," where the speaker reveals the future President's willingness to take a joke. It's moments like these that make reading Me First serve as proof of the human curiosity that demands that we put ourselves and others, both in and out of the headlines, under a microscope.