Anne with an E by April Michelle Bratten
$7 / order from Dancing Girl Press / review by Donna-Marie Riley
Here’s the problem: the more I like something, the less I feel able to articulate what it has done to me, what the effect was and why and wow and wonder. There is something deeply rich about this collection, something dense and rippling and luxuriant.
Anne with an E is a collection based on L.M Montgomery’s novel Anne of Green Gables and its subsequent sequels. I have never read Anne of Green Gables, don’t know even the general plot of it, couldn’t tell you a single one of its characters beyond Anne for whom it’s named and yet, despite all of that, despite my stunning lack of context, April Michelle Bratten’s Anne with an E took me by the wrists and held me flush against the wall, panting. That is to say: this collection unapologetically seduced me. There is a girlishness to these poems, yes, a young implacably sweet voice, and yet it is constantly interjected by something deeply erotic and half perverse. Something straining against the misjudgements that have been made about it. Something desperate to prove it’s not quite as innocent as it has been mistaken for.
Bratten is a poet who seems to know poetry, seems to have studied it before beginning to speak it. The language is hypnotic, rolls like the hips of a woman who knows her own power. Shows up to the party showing just enough leg and meets the eyes of anyone looking.
I am thrilled by these poems, so much so that anything I say on them doesn’t match up to the feeling they instil in me. I sing the praises of Bratten and Anne alike, and I thank them both for having caught me so off guard. Do not miss out on this. Let it stir your blood.
A few of my favourite quotes include:
…then I know he loves me, no-words-deeply.
I could tell you about leaving, about sinning,
about swinging little boys from my hip, or what happens
when a man does not receive his afternoon sandwich
in a timely manner, what happens to his penis after he is taken
to drink, but I will not. I cannot complain. I have a home
I can return to.
For you, I only write
a cluster of birds, a crushed blossom in echoes to home,
and I fear how much I long to hear them say, welcome back,
“You wouldn’t know it by simply looking,
but her head is a museum. It houses many beautiful aches.”
“Then you were shadow, never-played violin, empty kitchen, you flimsy
woman squeezed into the body of an elegant child.”
“I do not feel sexy this week. The clock is tired, its endless wandering. Are you abhorrent? Are you worse than death? I can afford to show a little leg. I fold my dress up above my knees. I speak less these days, I told you, I can afford to show a little leg.”
April Michelle Bratten’s latest book is the Anne of Green Gables inspired chapbook, Anne with an E (dancing girl press 2015). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Southeast Review, Zone 3, Gargoyle, decomP, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Thrush Poetry Journal, among others. She is the editor-in-chief of Up the Staircase Quarterly, and a contributing editor at Words Dance Publishing where she writes the article “Three to Read.” She currently lives in Minot, North Dakota.
Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.
Keen by Lauren Gordon
34pp / $8 / order from Horse Less Press / review by April Michelle Bratten
My mother brought home a large stack of Nancy Drew books from a garage sale when I was about ten years old. From that moment on until around high-school age (okay, maybe a little through high school age, too, I must admit) Nancy Drew was a hero of mine. I admired her intelligence, independence, and fearlessness. As an adult, the series still intrigues me, but I can also see its faults. In many ways, the character of Nancy is depicted as “too perfect.” What could lie beneath the calm and always perfectly put-together Nancy Drew? Lauren Gordon’s Keen digs into the fictionalized underbelly of a fictional character in a clever and unique way.
The poems in Keen (a multi-sided play on the pen name Carolyn Keene, used by a number of authors to ghostwrite the Nancy Drew series) are short and intelligent, fluidly linked to fittingly imitate a mystery novel. Many of the poems leave behind “clues” and foreshadow what ultimately becomes Nancy’s big revelation. In Keen, mystery solving becomes a metaphor, and like any good mystery novel, Keen drives the reader to start sleuthing along with the main character. In this case, however, we are treated with the compelling poems Gordon has written:
Nancy got down on her hands and knees,
took her flashlight from a pocket,
and beamed it.
Try to pull one up. It will stick tightly
to the floor.
Try to cement it together. You will be marooned
on this side of the moat.
Ned, she will say,
beam around my feet, my area –
Have you seen the missing couple?
–from “Chapter 7”
Gordon uses genre words and imagery to immerse the poems into a mystery-like atmosphere: trap door, turret, proof, vanished, magnifying glass, revolving bookcases, narrow escapes, etc. Possibly the most fascinating image used in Keen, however, is that of a robot. Gordon uses the imagery of a robot in several of the first section’s poems. One example is seen in “Chapter 18”:
Tell Nancy to take a good long
Gasp upon realizing a piece of railing
and newel are part of the hallway
that leads to your robot.
After my first reading of Keen, I became intrigued with the robot as a metaphor and asked Gordon if she could give away any secrets about its origin. She pointed me in the direction of an interview she did with Rattle and Pen. She explained:
- The first section of the chapbook happened years later in a blur – I reread one of the Nancy Drew books (The Crooked Banister, which came out in 1971 and was #48 in the series) and was just kind of floored by this one illustration of Nancy being held by a robot. The look on Nancy’s face is supposed to be terror, but instead she looks surprised, and the robot looks sad. It’s as if she’s being hugged against her will. I projected myself into the picture unconsciously and that is when the writing started.
As Keen progresses, readers will begin to realize that the Nancy Drew character is subconsciously coping with the absence of her mother. In the original Nancy Drew series, Drew’s mother died when she was young, and she was then raised by her single father and the family’s maid. The metaphor of the robot begins to encapsulate a possible array of emotions and ideas, namely frustration, confusion, and loss. The robot could be the grip of a lost memory sneaking up on Nancy in a quiet moment, or the strangulating feeling of unvoiced and unexplored emotions. Gordon ultimately leaves this metaphor up to her readers to decide. What, she seems to be asking, is your robot?
This complex collection also touches on the issues of sexism and racism depicted in the original Nancy Drew series, particularly Nancy’s reactions to people of color. Keen criticizes how issues of race were dealt with in the original books, which were written in the 1930s and 40s. I admired that Gordon decided to confront these issues with the Nancy Drew series, holding them up to the light, instead of shying away from them. Gordon shared her thoughts on this concept in the Rattle and Pen interview as well:
- I still have affection for the characters, but it’s impossible to not read them now without grimacing at the overt racism and sexism. As historical artifacts, they’re immensely interesting and simultaneously gross. I can’t separate them from the space and place they come from, so they have lost a little bit of the sparkle.
Gordon seems to be speaking to Nancy directly on these specific issues in “Chapter 15” when she writes, “Miss Nancy, it was impossible to make you hear us / over the sound of your own echo.”
Who was Nancy Drew, really? Keen is an impressive chapbook, woven with complex ideas and stunning poetry that share Gordon’s version of Nancy Drew, a version that I was enthusiastically drawn toward and happy to discover more about. Gordon’s Nancy Drew has more depth and substance underneath her tough exterior. Gordon’s Nancy Drew tells herself, “you have to press things inside of yourself / until they are violet”. Keen is written in a fresh and innovative style, lending the book connectivity of thought, and building up to a complete story. I thoroughly enjoyed solving the mystery.
Lauren Gordon is the author of four chapbooks; “Meaningful Fingers” (Finishing Line Press), “Keen” (Horse Less Press), “Fiddle Is Flood” (Blood Pudding Press), and “Generalizations about Spines” (Yellow Flag Press). She is also a Contributing Editor to Radius Lit.
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