Review: “Ennui” by Deborah Hauser

Ennui Review Cover Image

Ennui, or to quote its full title, Ennui: From the Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders, is an erudite and thought-provoking chapbook by the American poet, Deborah Hauser.

In a series of twenty-eight brief poetic segments (in terms of meaning and tone, the chapbook is really one poem), Hauser explores the suggested significance and meaning of both the word and the condition of Ennui and, via this, feminist theory and the traditional feminine condition–no mean feat for a slim publication. If you think this sounds unduly intellectual and heavy, you’d be wrong. Ennui might look intimidating, with footnotes and academic subject headings, but it wears its intellectualism lightly. This is poetry written with a sense of humour and a lightness of touch.

Given the brevity of many of the poetry segments, as well as their diversity of approach, it’s difficult to provide a meaningful quotation to exemplify the entirety and complexity of Ennui: it’s a work where the sum of the parts, good in themselves, creates a much greater whole. I’ve therefore, somewhat randomly it must be admitted, chosen to quote the whole of segment III. At least it stands on its own as a poem, illustrates the sense of fun that underpins the work and is appositely structural in form.

DEFINITION
particular genre of boredom
and disinterest that
afflicts women
restricted
from
fulfilling
their potential
see also suburbanitis
fig. a corset binding the soul

The physical construction of the chapbook also contributes to the intentions of the poetry: pink front sheet, pink binding ribbon and bookmark and with a pastel hued portrait of a delicate, bored-looking woman on the cover, this appears an ideal publication for delicate girly sensibilities, but the contents are a clever and thoughtful undermining of these self-same false sensibilities.

If I have a complaint about Ennui, it concerns its brevity. With some segments as short as six words, this publication really is only one poem’s-worth long. I began to read and then it was over already. It felt as if I had only just got into the flow and style of the poem and, because it was entertaining, I wanted more. Despite the complexity and ingenuity of the work, I was left feeling slightly short-changed. Ennui is a deceptively light read and that lightness initially made me feel as if I’d snapped my mouth shut on a light-weight wafer, when, in truth, Ennui is a three course meal. On first reading the poem, it all felt rather insubstantial. It required an extended period of consideration before the weight and complexity of the piece made itself felt. I guess an issue like Ennui just can’t be rushed.

*

J.S.Watts lives and writes in the flatlands of East Anglia. Her poetry and short stories  appear in a diversity of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States. Her debut poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths, is published by Lapwing publications. You can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/J.S.Watts.page or on her website www.jswatts.co.uk