Rubbernecking, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “to look about or stare with exaggerated curiosity.” It’s a phenomenon that typically accompanies the aftermath of automobile collisions. In Molly Prosser’s solid debut poetry collection, the keenly titled Rubbernecking (Word Poetry) instead refers to insightful exploration of external landscapes and her speaker’s observant inner world.
Prosser, a graduate of Carlow University’s master-of-fine-arts creative-writing program, is a northern Pennsylvania native who now lives in Oakland, Calif. A travel buff, she’s left footprints all over the world, writing of local and far-off locations with a sharp wit that shows traces of powerful writers like Jan Beatty and Marion Winik. And while Rubbernecking seeks out worldly experience, it pays special attention to life’s small yet significant moments.
In “Topography of a Body,” she writes of the slice and singe that accompany learning practical domesticity, saying, “If the truth of our childhood is hidden in our bodies, then mine / lives in the tips of my fingers, from canning tomatoes and / salt-packing pickles.” The visceral imagery continues when she moves on to highlight “my wrist where the scar still smiles up at me from when my / father’s quick slash at a venison roast caught my hand inside the / carcass, holding back the entrails.” Questionable line breaks aside, it’s a poignant evocation of what it means to be alive and accumulate knowledge.
Educational moments abound, as in “What I Know About Being a Man,” which begins: “I kept bringing home rabid animals,” and concludes, “a drooling / rabbit in the sandbox, / my father ended the game. Shovel in hand, blow after blow, / he kept hitting until I stopped crying.” Prosser’s powerful realism here will surely resonate with readers in different ways.
Youthful enlightenment also plays out in “The Bears of Hershey Park,” where “My older cousin Pat / showed me how to snake / my arm in to the claw machine at the Hershey Park arcade.” The poem finishes with the speaker watching Pat with his girlfriend as he’d “tuck in his thumb and snake his / fingers up the back of her/ Billy Idol tee shirt.” The physicality of the work throughout the collection is often vivid, yet unsentimental. Indeed, Rubbernecking is a book full of perception, seeking out what’s impossible to look away from.