The title poem in Ann Curran’s new collection, Knitting the Andy Warhol Bridge (Lummox Press), alludes to the 2013 “yarn-bombing” of that local span. Curran writes: “loop troopers make tight blocks of magic / … The pattern pulls like a blanket in a shared bed.” Deft similes aside, Pittsburgh locales often serve as her backdrop while speakers explore emotional and physical landscapes over 133 pages. The book strives to balance Pittsburgh’s sometimes-outdated image with its newfound national charm; Mount Washington overlooks, the Strip and an oversize rubber ducky all make appearances.
A member of the Squirrel Hill Poetry Workshop, Curran is a local in the best sense of the word, utilizing a keen eye and an unwillingness to pull punches. She’s written for local publications and edited Carnegie Mellon Magazine for decades. She’s also a council member at the iconic St. Mary of the Mount, whose church is utilized here for its powerful setting.
In Knitting, a religious gathering serves as an opportunity to view humanity. In “Midmorning at St. Mary of Mercy,” Curran lists attendees at the Downtown parish: “Early Mass is over. In a back pew / a disheveled woman appears passed out: / head on chest. A business dude rushes in, / lights his candle … / A scruffy guy heads out for Red Door food. / A devout fashionista strolls the aisle.” Curran’s focus lands on “a woman with thigh-sized upper arms” who “oozes fast fury … / stands, hands on hips, / like she’s giving hell to Mary and Son.” This plainspoken description casts no stones but rather highlights an eclectic congregation emphasizing inclusion.
“At Fifth and Smithfield” displays more locals, flaws and all, with Curran observing, “Even old men in Depends eye up girls / with shorts so brief, they are beyond belief. / A mom falls asleep feeding her baby. / Methadone, a cop says. Helps her head home. / A drug-dealer girl insists on more cash. / The desperate buyer digs deep, finds green.” The internal rhyme here (and sometimes elsewhere) might be distracting for some, weakening the gritty reality of the image. However, the poem’s POV harkens to William Carlos Williams’ speaker in his epic Paterson, seeking to understand the world through the microcosm of one small corner.
At its core, Knitting is Curran’s observant valentine to a city, and more importantly, the people whose lives make it both unique and universal.