Derived from emails, comments, and notes sent by students to her husband who is a physics professor, with Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum, Nin Andrews has collected a series of short epistolary poems with mixed results.
Andrews, who is best known for wry prose poems which idle around topics of lust and longing with a Lacanian-like jouissance, substitutes her usual yearnings for a playful bewilderment related in the voices of negligent students:
I hate it when I’m in class,
and you use all those technical terms
like kinematics and mass and velocity
and stuff. I always feel like
you’re a walking textbook.
I want to ask you one day
if you can put something in your own words.
With much of modern poetry being written for an audience primarily made up of poets who share some sort of current student-teacher relationship, this collection taps into a ready niche. One can already anticipate Xeroxed copies of these poems being passed around classrooms with an acknowledgement of conceit. Unfortunately, it is the poems inherent cleverness that puts them at a disadvantage. Building themselves up as jokes, they quickly teeter over into predictable phrasing with the final line delivering a limp punch that rarely delivers. Andrews is at her best when dancing with the inbuilt role that physics play, as when a student overhears the professor complaining about the class, saying, “Consider Newton’s / 2nd and 3rd laws / we have a lot of mass / the more you push us, / the more we push right back.”
Mild and inoffensive, Dear Professor will undoubtedly bring enjoyable recognitions for some, but as a collection these poems do not push anyone.