Whiny Baby

Whiny Baby

A review of Whiny Baby by Julie Paul

Published on March 14, 2024

Whiny Baby, Julie Paul’s second collection, is a phone call received in the middle of the night. You want to ignore it, but now you’re awake and unnerved, the ringer blaring. “Pick up,” bleats the answering machine. The voice is familiar, tinged with maternal anxiety that is at once both comforting and perverse. 

Whiny Baby
Julie Paul

McGill-Queen’s University Press

Colloquial in tone and by turns rambling and self-deprecating, Whiny Baby catalogues daily trials we’d rather not confront, from the deeply personal, such as motherhood and the aches of aging, to the universal: the looming threats of pandemic, climate change, and gun violence. The latter poems limp along, giving up the gambit too quickly and, often, clunkily. 

[…] maybe it was the giant hole 

in the logic of importing butter

from New Zealand

or the giant hole in the ozone –

wait, isn’t that healing? Didn’t we do

one thing right? 

If the overtly social poems falter in lukewarm critique, it’s the latent politics of the personal that gives the collection its teeth. Paul evokes, at times, Mary Oliver, as witness to the double bind of womanhood, or Elizabeth Bishop’s comically vivid self-awareness. Although wanting in both poets’ prosody, the collection’s strongest moments hinge more on creating emotive resonance than on anything characteristically lyrical. A late ekphrastic poem captures the want to make sense of one’s life through art, or to find a kind of self-reanimation within the art-object itself.

I want to sink deeply

into the natural world, to access, 

[…] whatever unites all beings, 

to […] make the painting a living thing


but mostly I want to be this woman

In these poems, Paul’s authentic voice – proud mother, anxious citizen, wonder-filled child at fifty – breaks through. For all she claims to fear, Paul displays genuine courage in confronting the question of whether artistic practice is a viable form of self-determination despite all that threatens to undermine it.mRb

Ronny Litvack-Katzman is a writer and poet who, after a decade in Montreal, still gets lost in the Metro. He recently graduated with a MA in English from McGill University.



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