Sunday, August 3, 2014

Literary Wives #10: Poetry!

The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
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. 

Please check out the other co-hosting bloggers' reviews:

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J
Ariel of One Little Library
Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Cecilia of Only You
Kay of whatmeread

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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.
Get this:

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.

Join us Monday, October 6, for our reviews of Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon.
It sounds like an interesting premise!


  1. Interesting comments! I guess I didn't take it as negatively as you did. I actually think Midas is considered greedy in myth, though, and I could see why his wife would believe he was stupid and greedy for making such a wish. Although some of these poems are violent, and some are lovely (particularly Anne Hathaway), I think they are more about the pain of love and the petty annoyances that drive people apart, exaggerated.

    1. Thanks much for your comments, Kay! I think this excerpt from my review: "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," echoes your last sentence. At least that is what I meant... :) I read and re-read these poems trying to determine if they really struck me as that negative, and unfortunately, they did. But we are all different in our reactions, as evidenced by our differing reviews! :)

  2. It sounds like we had similar feelings going into the book, as I haven't read any poetry in a while either! I loved how although the poems were accessible, there was something deeper there. The "light" facade of the words were deceptive in the depth of the meanings portrayed. I disagree that the women were all feminists simply because they were angry or vengeful, as that doesn't characterize all types of feminisms or feminists, but I picked up on the same theme. There is certainly and underlying current of resentment toward the men in their lives throughout the collection. Could that be because the men weren't all that supportive or understanding or capable of the mutual love and respect you described? I'm not willing to pin the relationship problems the women had solely on them and their reactions to their individual situations. I think this collection aptly describes any relationship, where difficulties will arise, as you mention with this awesome insight: "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." So true!

    1. Thank you for your comments, Emily! Glad you could determine some similarities in our reactions. I guess the term "femi-Nazi" comes to my mind when I consider some of these poems. I guess that's what I was trying to say by this comment: "To say these wives were feminists is perhaps a drastic understatement." Certainly not all the females depicted were as "militant" as others, but I do believe they all qualified as feminists, just at varying places on the intensity scale? :) It was certainly an interesting read.

  3. As always it is interesting to see your view and insights, Lynn. I definitely saw and felt what you did. Reading some of the poems really reminded me of some conversations I have had with women friends, when they had reached a point in their marriages where they felt free to simply mock or laugh at their husbands. There was that uncomfortable feeling of wanting to hear more but feeling somehow morally wrong for wanting to hear more. I did enjoy the collection though, for Carol Ann Duffy's cleverness and writing talent.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Cecilia. I would totally agree that Duffy is a very talented writer, unfortunately, I just didn't quite resonate with this collection as a favorite read. I'm glad everyone else seemed to like it much more than I did. I always want each author to be appreciated and succeed!

  4. I agree with Emily re: feminism in the poems -- feminism and misandry are not the same thing, and mostly I felt the poems were much more personal than political.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Carolyn! I evidently wasn't very clear in my statement regarding feminism. What I meant was that I considered all these wives to be feminists, but at varied intensities. As I stated in my reply to Kay, I read and re-read these poems over a period of two weeks trying to determine whether my initial reaction was my "true" thoughtful interpretation. I do agree Duffy is an extremely talented writer, her material is just not my favorite. So glad others felt much differently! I believe you have some new converts to her work, and that's great! I am glad I read this collection.