|Image courtesy of Powell's Books|
Our tenth read for the Literary Wives online book discussion group is a collection of poems about various wives of famous/infamous men throughout history, including folklore and mythological heroes, literary characters, etc., as well as some sisters and Anne Hathaway! This book sent me researching some mythological characters for context, since I never was much into mythology.
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Having not read much poetry for many years, I was uncertain what to expect. Though this collection did make me laugh out loud once in awhile, overall, the language and imagery was a bit too crude for me...and I though I could handle crude just fine! :
There are 30 poems ranging from the easily recognizable, like "Little Red-Cap," to the somewhat more obscure, such as "Mrs Aesop" or "Circe." Some of the titles are quite humorous and made me chuckle: "Queen Kong," "Elvis's Twin Sister," "Mrs Beast," and "Mrs Quasimodo." There is violence in several of these poems that simply grossed me out. However shocking some of the language and/or imagery was for me at times, there were also some moments that me stop and consider, or just laugh out loud! I found "Mrs Sisyphus" to be the most humorous of all.
From the first poem:
Lesson one that night,
breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem.
I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur, for
what little girl doesn't dearly love a wolf? (p. 3)
At which point I stopped and exclaimed aloud, "What?!?" Little girls LOVE wolves...well...okay...that's a bit different perspective. As you may well have guessed, this excerpt was from "Little Red Cap." And trust me, she did exact revenge for grandma's untimely demise!
"Mrs Quasimodo" was a particularly "ugly" poem, in my opinion. (Pun intended, I suppose.) He leaves her for someone "well formed" and she takes revenge by dismantling the bells.
I sawed and pulled and hacked.
I wanted silence back.
When I was done,
and bloody to the wrist,
I squatted down among the murdered music of the bells
and pissed. (p. 38-39)
All righty then! Mission accomplished, eh?!? ;) I felt the word choice "murdered music of the bells" was quite apt and depicted her intent accurately. I could easily suspend my disbelief to envision this scene.
I found "Mrs Midas" quite moving. I had never truly considered how the "Midas touch" turning
everything to gold could destroy a person's (Mr. Midas's specifically) life and relationship.
I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn't mind I couldn't believe my ears:
how he'd had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has their wish granted? Him.
...He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you'll be able to give up smoking for good. (p. 12)
She made him move out and he eventually became "thin" and "delirious." Mrs. Midas states
What gets me now is not the idiocy or the greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch. (p. 13)
Ending with a bit of irony, that one! And how much does she lack perspective and understanding? I'm rather assuming this man simply thought to make his own and his wife's lives much more enjoyable and less stressful with more money and riches. Perhaps he was only thinking of himself, but I could envision someone believing they would make their partner more comfortable with more money obtained by selling the gold. And I doubt he foresaw being granted this peculiar ability as the granting of his wish, but rather just a pile of treasure? Alas, we will never know...
I could continue giving you bits and pieces, but really, if you're interested, these poems do give you moments of pause. They're not exactly to my taste, but that is just me. You may find them all utterLY fascinating and delightful! One thing is for certain, they are a bit deeper than I expected, and I certainly appreciate that. Duffy's use of language is captivating, to say the least!
Now to the Literary Wives questions:
1) What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
To say these wives were feminists is perhaps a drastic understatement. Most of them exacted revenge in the most vicious ways, in my opinion. Mental note: do not "cross" any of these women, 'cause they can be evil and wicked! At the very least most of them berate, criticize, and make fun of their husbands And there is certainly no need to worry about these females, 'cause trust me, they can (and will!) definitely take care of themselves, and woe to the males upon whom they unleash their cruelty! For many of them the experience of being a wife meant they felt they were married to "bumbling idiots" or selfish pricks, or both! Overall, I did feel these poems expressed to some degree how living with another person can become a trial on certain days, once the thrill of a new relationship has settled into daily routines. However, there are coping mechanisms other than murder, etc., that can be employed to help alleviate such frustration! :)
2) In what way does this woman define "wife" -- or in what way is she defined by "wife"?
I felt many of these women were only wives until they felt they couldn't stand living with their husbands any longer. Perhaps the more deadly ones have lodged in my mind, but overall, I would say they only remained wives as long as they felt loved or at least some hope of being loved. And by love I mean receiving respect and consideration, not just sex. I wholeheartedly agree with this depiction of a marriage/relationship, which I consider to be realistic. I would never again remain committed to a relationship that wasn't based upon mutual respect, consideration, empathy, and caring. I felt most of these women were desiring these same qualities in their mates.