It’s odd to start a collection of poems by politely turning down a pick up line, but Moira Egan just comes right out with it in the opening of the first of two dozen sonnets: “A glass of wine, a napkin, and a pen / are all I need.” But something – the cadence or the spitfire wit of the delivery, or maybe the way I imagine the speaker looking up and coyly drawing a strand of hair behind her ear as she flatly rejects her suitor – the way I, like a bully’s toady, am drawn to rejection – causes me to push past her declination and further into a formal introduction of the chapbook:
(Oh please, why can’t he just leave me alone?
Do I look incomplete somehow, a yin
Without her yang, that perfume by Jovan,
– O stinky must, the Seventies defined! –
whose bottles, shaped like a woman and her man
fit well together, but looked weird alone?)
The poems themselves – sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins well into the sketchier side of the dinner rush – interlock like the retro perfume bottles, one ultimate line opening the next stanza; a bottom rolling over to become the top. (“They interlock like bodies in heat,” says blurber David Lehrman.)
The string of sonnets plays out like a dance. I might say tango, but that would be too sexy, especially when it’s actually a waltz. The cyclical chain of sonnets turns about the room – in sets of threes: “He’s married and I’m tired of that old dance,” Egan’s speaker sighs in Sonnet #15 [It’s not my place or his to want to fuck].
And like a good Strauss composition, a story is told throughout Bar Napkin Sonnets. Each sonnet, or movement, or frolic around the tipsy ballroom, reveals another layer of the story. The orchestra builds momentum toward the penultimate sonnet, which hosts a handful of climactic trumps: Helen Keller, Jesus Christ, fellatio, and the dreaded, “I love you”! – Before the final movement falls again to the story’s starting note: “I sit alone, / a glass of wine, a napkin, and my pen.”