The time: creeping toward the millennium, yet before Y2K panic inspires everyone to stockpile bottled water and cheap wine. The place: a Midwestern metropolis with echoes of Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, a city trying to preserve the past as a future arrives with gut rehabs and shuttered churches. The dramatis personae: corner bar denizens, bad girls with big plans, novels and their writers, a petulant lake, flocks of grandmothers with rosaries, a wrecking ball or two. Mary Biddinger’s fourth full-length collection of poems, Small Enterprise, introduces us to a world of risk and risk management, a continual struggle to stay afloat, and a hot triangular romance between man, woman, and city.
In Mary Biddinger's Small Enterprise we find a brilliant wackiness that slips into surreality that slips into memory that slips into dream—and then back again. We find a pile of memos from the most interesting Risk Management department on earth. And we find a bewilderingly smart narrator who looks at the world like this: “When I met the machine that eventually/would replace me, all I thought was/ how it filled the room with sun pools/and erroneous static.” Biddinger’s enterprise, in all its departments and gears and springs, is indeed small—it shrinks until it implodes, comes out the other side as the absolute-vast: “One team lost its ball, played soccer with a globe.”
These poems, the best I've seen yet in a career that already outshines most living poets (and plenty of dead ones), offer still more evidence that Mary Biddinger is one of the best, most entertaining poets out there. But these aren't just exercises in clever line breaks and punchy imagery. With her trademark blend of wit, surprise, and poignancy, Biddinger scrutinizes the many spheres of human existence, further pushing the stylistic envelope whilst maintaining her fidelity to art that matters, to language that roundhouses the psyche into something dizzyingly close to enlightenment.