Barefoot Girls by Ann E. Michael


Ann E. Michael spent her adolescent years in South Jersey, between Philadelphia and NJ’s Long Beach Island, just as musician Bruce Springsteen was getting started on his phenomenal trajectory to rock icon. She left her suburban town by attending college instead of taking her senior year of high school, intending to pursue visual art and psychology. Life happened instead, and her love of reading and writing evolved into a vocation as educator. After working in the magazine industry, marrying, and starting a family, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry at Goddard College. She instructs English comp-rhet at DeSales University, where she also created, and now directs, the university’s writing center.

Barefoot Girls offers a series of narrative, lyrical, persona poems backgrounded in Springsteen’s 1st three albums but projected through a girl’s perspective. The poems, inspired by memories of late adolescence, relate the stories of young women navigating sexuality, feminism, intellectual growth, and the urge to escape from “my hometown.” The 24 pieces in this chapbook represent a selection of a larger series of poems Ann E. Michael has written that explore female teen dynamics, such as the common feelings of otherness when the young person recognizes adulthood looms, and as parental and social expectations press her to follow proscribed behaviors.

Using the rhythms and assonance of sentence, sound, and place—the coastal plain of southern New Jersey, the Atlantic Ocean, scrub pineland, suburbs, and proximity to cities—the speakers in Barefoot Girls portray sensations familiar to any young woman who has observed her surroundings and peers and begun to ask serious questions of herself. In several of these poems, Bruce Springsteen’s songs or phrases act as image, allusion, or icon, pointing a way in to the psyches of young American women. The use of these references is individual and often unexpected, suggesting that what it really means to take a song to heart is far more than assimilating a popular trend but instead a form of deep and reflective association that may last a lifetime.

Ann E. Michael intends the collective voices in Barefoot Girls to generate a kind of imagined memoir of a time and place (South Jersey, early 1970s). Although peer pressure and social expectations may change in superficial ways, the transition to womanhood remains a fraught experience for many girls. This collection aims to evoke the loving camaraderie of girlhood friends, the fears and eagerness that surround growing up, and the wide variety of viewpoints that mark each woman as specific and valuable to the world.

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