Issue 3 - Spring 2010
Contents of a Mermaid's Purse
Flinch of Song
I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl
In the Voice of a Minor Saint Sarah J. Sloat
No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets
Noose and Hook
Self-Portrait with Crayon
The Best Canadian Poetry
The Ravenous Audience
I must say these poems are a delight. What a treat to be able to laugh at poems with conventional dark, even tragic subjects, handled with such unconventional lightness and irony. And while I sometimes frown on rhyme, I cheerfully stipulate that, in Ms. White’s hands, it serves to wonderfully enhance the fun:
After pillorying road hogs and iPod wielding diners, she writes:
But (semi) seriously folks, there’s plenty of heavy heartbreak and remorse in these poems; some with a wistful touch, some in straight pain. The last of the four sections, ‘Elegies,’ includes epitaphs for dead wives, husbands and friends. The poet even writes a script for her own cremation in ‘My Funeral.’ Often Ms. White speaks with the voice of the dead as in the villanelle, ‘Her Ghost’:
Often the dead speakers are real people: Christina Rossetti, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and, of course, Dorothy Parker. Sometimes they’re fictional or Biblical: Queen Gertrude, Eve, Jonah, Mary Magdalene. There’s commentary on mythology and religion, especially Christianity from which the author seems more than partially lapsed. Little of which is reverential while some is scathingly sarcastic as in “Cloakroom Talk at the Council of Chalcedon,” where the church fathers cynically vote to elevate Mary to the Trinity in order to court Egyptians and Ephesians who demand a substitute for the Great Mother figures of Isis and Demeter. In “Pentecost,” the spread of Christianity replaces a host of pagan gods with “The ultimate loathing: one / monotheist for another.” In “Lapsed Catholic Watches the Super Bowl,” the nebulous purity of the saved is contrasted with the joys of apostates who “crawl / from tree to tree” longing for fruits out of reach until they realize “that Christ wasn’t counting the tacos / and Budweiser was good for the soul.” Reflecting on her life in “A Chapter of Proverbs,” Ms. White lists various life lessons starting with the quotidian, “Never clean a freezer with an ice pick,” but getting increasingly grim, going on to “Sooner or later/ the stock market always comes down” and ending with: “Whatever you’re going to die of is already in you, / And science does not have a cure.”
Sweet revenge indeed! Most of the poems in this collection either sympathize with wronged women or skewer the immorality of men. De Beauvoir complains about Sartre’s annual affairs; Rossetti’s wife grumbles that he only sees his ideal image and not her; Gertrude gripes that Claudius ignores her requests; Eve laments that Adam is “thicker than a coconut”; and husbands take the rap for the suicidal urges of Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf. Mary Magdalene, who was denied a place at the table after Jesus’ death is revenged by the widow in “Post Diagnosis” who, when her husband succumbs to cancer, gets to decide who receives each of their shared possessions as she cheerfully annexes his closet space.
Reviewed by Martin Abramson.