Friday, March 26, 2021

Freeform Friday: The "Women are Some Kind of Magic" Series by Amanda Lovelace

once upon a time, while i was wandering through the library, i happened upon a selection of books with irresistible titles (the princess saves the day in this one, the witch doesn't burn in this one, and the mermaid's voice returns in this one -- all part of the women are some kind of magic poetry series).  i gathered them up, one by one, and let their words wash over me.  here are my thoughts on the experience.

the story of 
a princess 
turned 
damsel 
turned 
queen 

(Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com) 

My Review: once upon a time there was a poet named amanda who didn't use capital letters in her books. her choice was likely stylistic, but it's equally possible her keyboard was just glitchy.  either way, the lack of capital letters felt easier on the eyes, so i decided to try writing in the same format. de-capitalized, that is. i will not be free-versing my review. trust me, it's better this way.

the princess saves herself in this one is a collection of autobiographical poems that, when read chronologically, tell the story of the author's life from a young age and into adulthood, in simple, unaffected free verse.  lovelace gives three 'warnings' at the beginning of the book -- a trigger warning (see our sensitive reader section) and two others.  the first, this was no fairytale.  just "a girl faced with the difficult task of learning to believe in herself.  and second, there was a "happy ending ahead."  I clung to that last one when things got dark. 

the first few poems feature a princess girl, locked in a tower, and absorbed in her books, and the lives held within them.  I saw myself straightaway.  it was wistful and dreamy.  until it wasn't.
suddenly jarring -- a poem that is not graphic but alludes to abuse in a way that make a knowing reader's stomach turn.

it becomes apparent rather quickly that the author endured a very traumatic childhood and adolescence, including an abusive, alcoholic mother, sexual assault, bullying, self-harm, the death of a loved one, and feelings of self-loathing and abandonment.  the reader follows her journey out of the darkness as she struggles to find love and happiness.  watching her transformation from wistful princess to shattered damsel to fiery queen was emotional, to say the least.  

one of the reasons i fear poetry is that i am worried i won't understand it.  lovelace's poems were packed with a range of emotions and fraught with meaning, but they were concise and easy to understand.  at the end of every poem there was a parting line, written in italics, that always seemed to drive the point home.  while some poetry books contain stand-alone poems, the princess saves herself in this one is best read from cover to cover in the order it is written, to experience the full effect of the narrative arc. 

when a book comes with a trigger warning for sexual assault, I am always worried it will be graphic.  When discussion her sexual assault, her words weren't technically graphic, aside from some profanity, they did inference sexual assault in a way that felt graphic (because sexual assault is graphic by nature, especially with a tender age victim).  her words aren't always pretty or comfortable; they are often packed with rage or weighed down by sorrow.  not unexpected, given all that she had to go through.  

i lack the literary vocabulary to analyze poetry, so i will simply say that i loved the author's style, especially her occasional use of concrete poetry (see right), which flitted around the page, forming images through both movement and word.  i was impressed at her ability to convey a surprising amount of emotion in very few words.  

if you're looking for a book of happy-go-lucky poetry, you might want to look elsewhere as the bulk of this book deals in  complicated emotions and physical and emotional trauma.  i didn't relate with every experience lovelace shared, but i get the sense that a reader who has experienced struggles similar to hers might find significantly more resonance and recognize a bit of themselves on the page. 

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The author includes a trigger warning at the very beginning of this book. It reads: this book contains sensitive material relating to: child abuse, intimate partner abuse, bullying, sexual assault, self-harm, eating disorders, queerphobia, menstruation, alcoholism, racism, trauma, death, suicide, grief, cancer, fire, & possibly more.  So, there's that.  There's also approximately 10 F-words (as well as a few other instances of profanity), and approximately two poems that have anti-religious or anti-God sentiment.
___________________________________________________

damn
whoever
tries
to
burn
you

(summary from the back of book - image from amazon.com)

my review:  the witch doesn't burn in this one is about the fire that exists at the heart of women, flames that could burn their oppressors to ash, if given the opportunity.  to clarify, this book is not really about witchcraft. in her poems, the author uses the term 'witch,' to symbolizes any woman who refuses to be dominated, categorized, or controlled by morally-depraved 'match-boys.'  

brace yourself for some raw, honest emotions because lovelace is passionate and she is pissed. in clever and insightful prose, lovelace addresses physical and sexual abuse, sexism, eating disorders, rape culture, self-harm, and more, as she defiantly unleashes all the feelings women are told we must repress -- frustration, fury, indignation, etc. -- in the name of being niceattractive, and polite.  while some of the poems feel like liquid rage unbottled, others land like a healing balm or gentle encouragement.  all stand as a reminder that women are magnificent, important, and powerful.  

here is an example of one of my favorite poems.  apologies if the second column doesn't line up as nicely as it should.  my computer hates me.
 
telling me                                a story
not all men                              meant to warn
have                                        other people's 
bad intentions                         daughters.

doesn't do                               & i will still
anything to                             cry when i turn on
reassure                                  the television 
me.                                         to find

after i                                     yet
walk away from you,             another man
nothing will have                   getting away
changed                                 with

i will still                               well -- 
be scared to                          what they 
leave my house                     always seem to
after sundown,                      get away with

i will still                              i am not
find comfort                         the one who
in keys resting                      has to change
between fingers,                   the way i think
                                            or the way i act
i will still                              they are.
question                                
the intentions of                    - expectation vs. reality. 
every man i know,               
                                            
there is just. so. much. to digest in that one poem.  

the witch doesn't burn in this one raises some incredibly relevant issues and would be a fantastic pick for your next book club read (as long as your book club is okay with the stuff in our sensitive reader section).  i didn't relate to every poem, nor did i particularly like it when, on occasion, it seemed like lovelace was lumping all men together, but there were many poems that hit my soul dead-center and uncovered emotions that i didn't even realize I had.  i expect that every person who reads these poems will experience them a little bit differently.  i believe that many who have experiences similar traumatic experiences will feel seen, heard, validated, and empowered. even someone, like myself, who has managed to survive to adulthood relatively unscathed, will likely find a poem (or twelve) that sets their heart ablaze.

my rating:  3.75 stars.

for the sensitive reader:  this book comes with a trigger warning similar to the one in the previous book -- this book contains sensitive material relating to: child abuse, intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, eating disorders, trauma, death, murder, violence, fire, menstruation, transphobia & more.  remember to practice self-care before, during, & after reading.  It also has 10-15 instances of profanity.  

sidenote: the first book in this series was dedicated to 'the boy who lived' (awww!); the second, to 'the girl on fire' (yay!); and the third, to the author's younger 'bookmad' self.  i adored the nods to the significant characters in her life, and especially loved her note to self -- the girl who didn't give up. 
________________________________________________

&
she
tore
the
stars
apart

(image from amazon.com)

my review:  the mermaid's voice returns in this one is the third book in the women are some kind of magic series.   i read all three of the books one after the other, but this book is the only one i read in one sitting.  i sat down for 'just a few minutes' and didn't get up again until i turned the last page.  it happens sometimes, but rarely.

lovelace's poems progress through several stages, beginning with new love that careens out of control, followed by the emotional and psychological aftermath, and eventually leans toward recovery and empowerment. in a shift from her other books, one of the last sections alternates between lovelace's poems and those of other contributors.  i thought her decision to bring in other voices was perfect, as their are sadly far more voices who know the words by heart.  along the way the author touches on a lot of sensitive topics that are likely to resonate with those who have shared the experience, but i also believe her poems might offer helpful insight for those whose loved one's have endured similar trauma.  

of the three books, this one was my hands-down favorite.  all of her books feel incredibly personal, but for some reason mermaid felt the most authentic.  it wasn't until i read the author's note to the reader towards the end that i realized why, but i'll leave that for you to discover. if there is one point that these books drive home with absolute clarity, it is the devastating, long-term consequences of sexual trauma.  it is equally clear that the author has experienced that same trauma firsthand.  her poems are sincere, expressive, and have the enormous potential to impact those who have never been able to put their emotion into words -- to give a voice to the voiceless -- and help heal old wounds.  i was consistently amazed at lovelace's ability to convey a boatload of complicated emotions and meaning in just a few words.  here are a few of my favorite examples: 

        she didn't kiss frogs
        she kissed great white sharks

boy howdy, have i been there!  

or 

        &
        so
        she did
        what any
        rational woman
        would do -- 
        ever so calmly,
        she reached out
        & she tore
        the stars
        apart.

have you ever felt that rage?  i have. there's quite a few more, including the one pictured, but you get my drift...

ultimately, the mermaid's voice returns in this one is about taking control of your own story and writing your own ending.  i can't promise each poem will speak to everyone, but i strongly believe that those who have suffered some type of sexual trauma will find something in this book that reaches them on a heart-level.  it's for those who thought they were safe; for those who thought it was love until it wasn't; for those who were told they 'should have said no'; for those who were told they must have wanted it; for those who wanted out, but were too scared; for those who haven't been able to find their voice; for those who have been screaming all along; and for all those who will forever bear the scars.

my rating: 4.25 stars

for the sensitive reader: this book had dramatically less profanity than the the other books in the series (four instances total...or thereabouts).  personally, i didn't agree with every viewpoint offered (but what else is new?). as with the two previous books, this book comes with a trigger warning -- this book contains sensitive material relating to: child abuse, gun violence, intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide, alcohol, trauma, death, violence, fire, & possibly more.  remember to practice self-care before, during, & after reading.

Amanda has also written break your glass slippers (#1) and shine your icy crown (#2) in the you are your own fairytale series.


I haven't read them yet.  I'll let you know how it goes...

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