1,000 Cassandras
Julie Sheehan

This book is about money. It’s about capitalism, cultural materialism, what we throw away, what we try to keep. It’s a book that asks, “What do Americans want?” There are poems about environmental destruction and our cavalier wastefulness, as impressive in its scale as it is distressing in its ramifications. In one parody of the classical muse, we get the mysteries of Lite Brite and detritus of Barbie dolls, couched in the degraded mumbo-jumbo that a financial advisor would use while robbing a client. Other poems question the insidious translation into monetary terms of such democratic and humanistic values as beauty, or an educated citizenry, or the common good.

This collection is timely. Issues of income inequality are much on people’s minds, and these poems consider what people have to do to get by, how they struggle, how they suffer, how “outrageous, what the psyche can endure.” Humble characters fill them: line cooks, cashiers, single mothers, the unemployed, the homeless, the 99%. They keep America consuming, but they are themselves commodities, especially when they happen to be women. The female body is commodified along with the material objects that will eventually disappoint us. The American worker appears as a threatened species. Poems grieve at the death of friends, of children, of the elderly, but they also grieve at the death of ways of life—the mom-and-pop business.