Archive for August 9, 2009

Entering The Doors of the Body

It’s hard not to instantly compare Mary Alexandra Agner ‘s new chapbook, The Doors of the Body (Mayapple Press, 2009) to  Transformations  by Anne Sexton.  Sexton’s book retold many popular fairy tales, while Agner’s collection dives much deeper, exploring the voices often silenced in women’s history, folklore and myth.

These voices are thoughtful, intelligent, and assertive.  Sometimes, they are sad, but they are always strong.  For instance, in “Ellen” we read the story of Helen of Troy says she “had to change my name and cut my hair.”  In “Minerva,” we see the goddess who “sprung fully formed, they say, the spitting image/with spear for stand in phallus and an owlet/to hold my wisdom, since my little female/noggin couldn’t hold the liquid measure”  face her father to say “You never asked if I had longings/exceeding your narrow-minded need for power.” 

It would be misleading, however, to say that Agner just uses classic mythology as a starting point of all her stories.  Fairy tales are present, as well as history.  My favorite poem, “The Harvest I Desire” makes references to the symbolism of apples (from various sources) where the persona says, “I know my ancestors/the wicked stepmother still plots, and Eve/has seen this fall before.”

What is the most amazing thing, however, about Agner’s collection, is the lyrical voice in each and everyone of her poems.  Her female characters are not just telling stories, they are singing.  When you are done reading this collection, you will know more than just stories.  You will have read a musical retelling of women’s history.