High Water Lines by Lauren Scharhag

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High Water Lines is a swan song for the American dream, where the notion persists that anyone can still pull themselves up by the bootstraps to escape poverty. This is a collection of poems for the working poor, especially those that dwell in the places deemed “flyover country.” These poems are for anyone who has ever had to pick up and move to chase a job or escape eviction, for anyone who has ever had to punch a time clock or bust their hump for a measly tip, for anyone seeking a better life in another country, for anyone who is one emergency away from homelessness. Written in a time when wages have stagnated while the cost of living has skyrocketed, when millions of Americans are juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet while CEOs are raking in record profits, High Water Lines examines both the struggles as well as the dignity of labor.

This is America: thrift-store shoppers, pawn shop patrons, housewives, veterans, farmers, day laborers, transients, dumpster-divers, oldsters on fixed incomes and Peanut Festival Queens. Woven throughout are related issues such as climate change and addiction. People make questionable choices trying to fill the void left by exhaustion and despair. Relationships suffer, children repeat their parents’ mistakes. But they are also survivors, finding creative ways to rise above their situation. In rising above, we maintain a sense of self.

These poems are haunted by the past while facing an uncertain future. They bear witness to the departure of comfortable middle-class possibilities. Scharhag is an emerging voice in contemporary poetry. Her lines are as widely varied as the experience of the 99-percenters she champions. They can be as brief as a few lines, or span several pages. She offers verse that is at once profoundly personal and relatable, compassionate and analytical, bleak and irreverent. High Water Lines is a mirror for our American moment.

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