What is a woman’s place in a world full of overwhelmingly masculine ideas and works? Marthe Reed, in her newest book of poetry, Gaze, examines the many intersections between women and modern society as a whole.
What is a woman’s place in a world full of overwhelmingly masculine ideas and works? Marthe Reed, in her newest book of poetry, Gaze, examines the many intersections between women and modern society as a whole. Subjects seemingly far removed from each other are juxtaposed to create often beautiful explosions of emotion and imagery.
The greatest example of this intersection is in the poem, “Armoury.”
a carefully scripted
plan of attack
discourse with war
in pale silk
rucking marks it
rosing a target
a silk tasset
Here, Reed is able to take two wildly different subjects, war and fashion (or rather, women’s clothing in general), and collide them within the poem. To me, this creates an excellent connection of both image and tone, of the difficulty that lies between the two subjects. Now this doesn’t work in every poem; some of them seem to force the ideas a little too openly.
The poem “Jasmine bulbul” is, like many of the poems in this collection, packed to the brim with many Middle Eastern and feminine images, trying to twist the two together and then crash them into the usual military terminology,
from under roses or pomegranate boughs machine guns rattle the street,
sharia of violence flowering around her
Some of Reed’s poems are able to achieve this idea quite well, but this is an example of one that is really trying too hard to force an image into the reader’s mind, and I felt it a little too obvious.
That said, another of Reed’s greatest strengths is her variety of forms and styles used throughout the book. Her poems range from short stanzas separated by asterisks to squashed-together lines of prose poetry. She even ranges into the experimental on a few poems, most of which I found to fall flat on my poetic ear. Poems like “The garden of delights” and “Arsenal of terror” overused the staccato spacing of words that in other poems, such as “Still life with caged birds,” works quite well. When Reed pushes noun after noun together, she creates less of a vibrant picture and more of a confusing jumble of words. But when she relies on space to create the image, Reed draws us into her intended world.
Reed also enjoys splitting some poems into sections or forming series around a certain word or idea. This works to the greatest effect in what I’ve termed the “couture” series.
What works so great about these three poems (all based around “Couture”) is that they not only utilize Reed’s favored method of juxtaposing the feminine life with that of masculine war and terror, but they also work like a classic trilogy that leads us on a beautiful journey through this idea. I’d say this series is the crowning achievement of the collection, utilizing Reed’s ideas and skills in the best possible ways.
The first poem, simply titled “Couture,” paints a gorgeous portrait of a repressed woman’s idea of fashion: “A hood suppresses her desire, kisses her.” The language Reed uses flows into the next poem, “Couture remise,” slowly transitioning into this mashing together of the female portrait with the fear and terror that war applies. “Too beautiful to articulate / resistance. Her embrace expects us. Any suffices, as long as it / manifests both terror and dis-ease.” Such beautiful language paints a heartbreaking picture of female repression, especially in many Middle Eastern cultures.
The final poem in this trilogy, “Couture tierce,” brings the violence and death to the forefront, the tragic inevitability of a woman faced with this type of cultural authoritarianism. The final lines don’t capture the beauty of the entire poem, but they sum up the series well, using the language of “couture” as well as the finality and emotions involved in such a horrific death: “Fear insinuates itself in the tissue of silk she abandons. / Sobers us, centered in the frame.”
So while this collection does not always do what the author intended, there are a few gems in the collection that truly stand out and teem with raw emotion and beautiful language. When the author is being truly original and not relying on political statements or failed metaphors, she creates some beautiful, heartbreaking images that linger.