Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Book I Wish I Wrote

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a poem for Poetry Thursday about meeting Wonder Woman at the Super Wal-Mart. In response, Jim from "I am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small." suggested that I check out the book Becoming the Villainness by Jeanine Hall Gailey. Thank you, thank you, thank you Jim, for such a wonderful suggestion.

I just finished reading the book last night and I am still reeling from the experience. I am an enthusiastic consumer of pop culture artifacts like comic books and cheesy TV shows. In other words, I am a nerd. As a nerd, I have always thought that comics and sci-fi/fantasy genre literature has provided us with a variety of gender archetypes. I think that they are on par with the archetypes found in myth and religion. To a certain degree, they are our current religion. In her book, Gailey explores these archetypes with sensitivity, creativity, and authenticity.

Her book is divided into 5 sections -- Origins; Superpower; Character Arc; Dark Phoenix, Rising; and The Final Frame. While I think I may need to read the book another time to truly understand the movements from section to section, it feels like the book moves from the construction of a female or feminine identity to the birth of the dark goddess within women and the reconciliation of these conflicting natures.

Each section combines poems by a "real" narrative voice with her "fictional" voices. Sometimes this happens in the same poem. For instance, in Origins, we have a poem called, "Remembering Philomel," which alternates between a young woman recalling her childhood sexual abuse with Philomel recounting her rape by her sister's husband. The result is chilling and hits close to home.

Many of my favorite poems are both funny and chilling, like "Conversations with the Stepmother, at the Wedding." In this poem, Gailey explores the stepmother archetype and actually helps you to feel sympathy for her, while illustrating her callousness. Other poems spin their original stories on their ears, like "When Red Becomes the Wolf." She uses the line of "what a big mouth you have," in such a naturally colloquial way that it sings in its new meaning.

What I love most about this book is that it puts into poetic forms ideas that have been swirling around my head for a while. Myth, pop culture, literature, et al present a difficult archetype of women in our culture. Through her poems, Jeanine Gailey Hall compresses this archetype into a small black diamond. Each new facet is brilliant, scary and dark, and we can almost see ourselves in the reflection.


jeannine said...

Thanks for your kind words, Jessica! Jim sent me the link to your blog. I like your Wonder Woman in Walmart poem too.

Jessica said...

Thanks for stopping by Jeannine. As you can tell, I *really* enjoyed your book! :)