I don’t come across much in the way of poetry by/about fat women, so I was delighted to learn about Rachel Wiley, who has two collections of such work! Nothing is Okay was called the better choice by Goodreads reviewers, but after finishing Nothing is Okay, I definitely plan to pick up Fat Girl Finishing School.
Wiley reveals her identity in an early poem, which gives readers context about the author: she’s fat, female, queer, and bi-racial (a white mother and black father, she explains). The poems explore these identities, including one in which Wiley addresses the people who are “concerned” with fat people’s health:
They all seem so anxious for my heart
like it’s an unattended package at the airport
She continues the poem with memorable imagery of the ways people are certain her heart inside her fat body will fail:
they are certain it is going to attack, my heart,
like a hungry bear on a camp ground
ripping a zipper down my chest, cracking
my sternum like a cheap tent pole.
The violent imagery of the bear mutilating her body struck me, and the tent pole’s weak structure emphasizes how fragile her heart is inside her fat body. Don’t forget, though, that Wiley is writing to people who “care” about her health without being medical professionals, people only making assumptions based on what they see.
Cleverly taking other media and putting them into the form of a poem, Wiley writes “Cooking With Tears” like a brief women’s magazine article. The poem has the happy can-do attitude of those mini articles with which most readers will be familiar. Here is an example combining an advice column with the new trend of excluding certain foods from one’s diet:
When throwing dinner parties, it may be important to remember that some of your guests may have removed tears from their diets due to the effect on the planet or some such nonsense (and despite the fact that not everyone has access to organic fair trade happiness) so it may be necessary to prepare a non-tears option to please all of your guests.
Wiley’s snark is humorous, but she’s also making fun of two institutions that harm fat women: shallow advice and restricted eating. While I recognize that some people have necessary dietary restrictions, and others do so for personal or ethical reasons, it’s common for people to eliminate foods from their diets and claim “health reasons,” but unnecessary food restriction is dieting. As a fat activist, Wiley does not support dieting.
Wiley also uses the medium of rejection slips writers receive to write a poem rejecting creepy messages from men on OkCupid. For example, she responds to a man who sends her the message “wanna see my cock?!“
Unfortunately, we are not accepting Flash Fiction at this time.
If you’re not a writer or working in publishing, you may miss the joke. Flash fiction is short and quick; Wiley’s suggesting that the sender either has a small penis or would be too quick in bed. She cleverly mixes form and content to take a literary look at dating.
And much of her work is about dating, exploring both the flaws of her exes and people on OkCupid and her own issues. She writes a warning letter to all of her exes, letting them know a small army of zombified Rachel clones may show up to their house and profess they are still in love. All exes should brace and defend themselves. My favorite poem is “Dry Cake Wishes And Tap Water Dreams,” which contains all of Wiley’s mediocre desires for one ex:
. . . a lifetime swaddled in beige, skinless chicken
boiled, Kraft singles, steamed rice, and unflavored oatmeal.
I wish him a wardrobe of Polo shirts — tucked in.
The poem had me in stitches because even though it isn’t mean, it does feel like a witchy curse for an unremarkable life full of “Great Clips haircuts,” “engagement photos in an apple orchard,” and “One-ply toilet paper.” Aside from the content of the poem, Wiley makes uses of consonance, assonance, and alliteration to her advantage: the t’s in “Great” and “cut,” the p’s in “ply” and “paper,” and the o’s in “photo,” “orchard,” and “toilet” all create sounds that work to create a poem that’s lovely to read, and not just for the content.
I really loved this collection of poems, which is both cheeky and says something deeper about the culture of fatphobia, dating, and identity. Nothing is Okay demands you to grab someone and read aloud to them. I can’t wait to get my hands on Fat Girl Finishing School.