An Engagement with Rachel Glaser: First World Problems

by CiCi Flanagan

A “first world problem” is a current pop culture phrase that defines certain problems as trivial and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. In the ninth issue of iO Poetry, poet Rachel B. Glaser has two ironic poems entitled “With no Desire to Call Anyone I reach for my Phone” and “He’s Got a Camera.” Both poems discuss specific first world problems that have to do with technology and stereotypes. In “With No Desire to Call Anyone I Reach for my Phone,” the narrator describes how she is “closer with the phone than the people in the phone.” Similarly in “He’s Got a Camera” Glaser discusses current pop culture stereotypes and the personalities associated with them. In her poems Glaser comments on the fact that many trivial actions have turned into first world problems. Using setting, emotional connections and the structuring of her poems Glaser demonstrate how relationships with cellphones and how people are perceived are first world problems.

Glaser’s narrator in  “With No Desire to Call Anyone I Reach for my Phone” has a closer relationship with her cell phone than the people in her life, a common first world problem. The speaker is losing her physical relationships and relying too much on her cell phone. The narrator finds herself in a variety of situations where she is attached to her phone. The scenarios range from a wedding, driving her car and even getting lunch with a friend. In each circumstance the narrator is putting her attention to something other than the task at hand.  While speaking to her friend the narrator iterates “ ‘truly interesting,’ I say to your story at lunch / then under the table, check my phone.” Similarly she “wake(s) from (her) wedding day / and feel the covers for (her) phone” not caring about her guests. In both of these instances the narrator should be polite and courteous to her friends, but yet she chooses to prioritize her phone. Glaser’s main argument for these scenarios is to highlight that relationships require each person to give their undivided attention and right now the first world problem of cell phones is hindering theses relationships. Perhaps the people of today have become afraid of forming physical relationships and therefore choose to hide behind their phones instead. 

In relation to the narrator’s first world problem of prioritizing her cell phone in “With No Desire to Call Anyone I Reach for my Phone” the narrator admits that she has an emotional attachment to the phone as well. Glaser’s narrator acknowledges that she feels “a sad bolt of freedom” as she turns off her phone at night. She makes the shutting down process feel as though someone is dying rather than simply turning off her phone.  To add, the narrator talks about how her makeup rubs off onto her phone leaving “cover-up on its face / like a silly lover.” When she looks at her now makeup encrusted phone, the “dirty mirror” leaves her with a dirty reflection of herself both literally and figuratively. Literally, the phone is reflecting a dirty picture of her but figuratively the narrator is hiding behind her cell phone in order to avoid relationships with people. The narrator’s emotional bond with her phone can be visualized as an electronic neon green bond between her hand and the phone. Without the phone she’s heartbroken and defeated, but in reality she has no reason to be. The narrator could choose to ignore her cell phone instead though she wallows in the emotional relationship she has with it. On a daily basis the narrator must deal her the emotional strained caused by the absence of her phone, another first world problem.

The correlation between technology and relationships is not the only first world problem the narrators in Glaser’s poems struggles with. In “He’s Got a Camera” the narrator’s first world problem deals with stereotypes.  The content of this poem is mainly about the different personalities and stereotypes the narrator thinks of after she sees one guy with a camera. As the narrator observes one man with a camera, she imagines different types of men in her mind and relates them all to each other. For instance, she starts off , “he’s got a camera / so that means he’s a photographer / which means he’s creative,” but then suddenly the narrator can relate this man she’s seeing to “hot guys struggl[ing] with math / and smok[ing] weed instead.” The narrator continues this list with other stereotypes such as “outdoorsy guys are free” and “guys who write songs think to much.” In doing so the narrator only sees the stereotypes and has no substance behind her reasoning. By being hung up on all theses types of men the narrator has developed another first world problem.  Overcoming stereotypes is the narrator’s first world problem in “He’s Got a Camera.” If the narrator cannot see past the appearances of people, she will never know their true personalities. Rather she will believe the personalities she’s created for them are true. 

Not only is the content in “He’s Got a Camera” a vital attribute to Glaser’s first world problems, but the structure is as well.  In “He’s Got a Camera” the narrator is listing these stereotypes of men and linking them from one to another. She does this by repeating an ending word (usually an adjective) from the previous poem into the beginning of the next.  For example as the narrator describes the heavy metal stereotype she says “songs seduce me if they aren’t heavy metal / metal isn’t for girls like me / boys who like metal get dick tattoos.” The word metal has been repeated three times and gives a monotonous feel to the poem. In addition, the poem is written in one large block with no stanza breaks. There are no words, phrases or stanzas that stand out on their own in the poem and that relates back to the narrator’s first world problem of stereotypes. Since the narrator is concerned about the men embodying each stereotype, the poem’s structure symbolizes the stereotypes as being trivial and unimportant.

Glaser’s poems “With No Desire to Call Anyone I Reach for my Phone” and “He’s Got a Camera” both tackle how everyday situations are becoming first world problems. While relaying these messages, Glaser uses humor within both of her poems to help emphasize the first world problems are trivial and insignificant issues. In doing so, Glaser’s emotional appeal, setting and structure of her poems highlight an underlying message that physical relationships are more valuable than online ones and encourage people to not have preconceived notions about others.

CiCi Flanagan is a first-year student at Boston University studying Business Administration and Arts Leadership. She has a fascination with the Chinese culture and currently takes Mandarin. Though she may sound like a five year old when she speaks, CiCi plans to take her Mandarin skills and work in Shanghai with the Chinese pop artists in the future.