There are two definitions for the word fabulous. One that we are perhaps most familiar with as in, “How fabulous are those drapes?” But there is also a second definition that refers back to the word fable. I want to think about both of these definitions as I explore my recent reading of Nin Andrews’ newest poetry collection Why God Is a Woman.
Let me start with the second use of the word fabulous, because this collection opens in an unreal location. These poems are set on a fictional island that is purported to be on Earth. (There are references, for example, to Europe and to Angelina Jolie.) On this island the women are the captains of industry while the men worry about their beauty and their wings.
Yes. Their wings. As Andrews writes on page 33, “After all, the Island women prefer men with wings. Wings are considered the essence of the Island male’s mystique.” Each poem in this collection touches on a different aspect of gender identity through role reversals.
Denise Duhamel’s blurb on the back cover of the collection calls this book a satire. This collection has some hallmarks of the satire (such as tackling the very topical issue of gender), but I’d also argue that this collection isn’t just a satire. The poems, for one thing, aren’t particularly funny although there are moments of dark humor. Why God is a Woman is a book that defies strict categories which is evident from the very form that the poems take.
Andrews’ collection is made up entirely of prose poems, a form that challenges perhaps the most fundamental hallmark of most poetry: the linebreak. Since Why God is a Woman blurs the lines between prose, poetry, and satire what other other genres and/or conventions does this collection challenge?
Let’s return to that definition of fabulous as in fable. Would you call the inhabitants of Andrews’ fabulous island mythical creatures? They are not animals. But are they completely human? There is the indication that they are descended from angels. How do you get more mythic than that? Take the “The Woman with the Halo.” The woman in this poem received the burden of a halo by being “left outside on a night in June when the thups arrived” and bit her “at least a thousand times.” But are these aspects of myth enough for you to consider this collection a fable?
The collection ends with the title poem. This final poem ends with the same male speaker who is present in most of these poems throughout the collection. By the end of the book he is a broken man. He has become bitter towards the women “who ran my life.” He ends the poem, the collection, remembering how he used to talk to God as a child and how his mother told him, “God is a woman. She said someday I’d understand.”
Is this a fable-like ending? What does he come to understand? Do I understand? I don’t feel like I have to “understand” a poem to enjoy it, but I did puzzle at this ending. While the ending doesn’t feel like the typical maxim that a fable might end on. The ending instead continues the book’s social commentary on gender without letting the female gender come out as completely without flaw. Women being solely in charge is not shown to be the answer. My personal interpretation takes Andrews’ use of wings and halos as a nod towards a companionship and/or at least a connection between genders that would, perhaps, be the preferred answer. Equality versus one gender dominating.
This book may not fit easily into many of the definitions and categories I mentioned, but it does succeed at fitting the most common usage of fabulous because it is an extraordinary book. Not only is the concept of the collection an intriguing one, but the idea it is well executed.
Perhaps one of my favorite pieces, from page 21, can cement the books skill. In this poem Andrews flips the notions of romantic behavior with a terrific extended metaphor. She has the speaker discuss his sisters who use code, “for some kind of romantic act, and sometimes for a specific guy. A flirtation was a fizzy drink like an Orange Crush.”
The speaker continues to explain the code by focusing in on one man that all of his sister’s like at one time. They called him Payday. The speaker describes a day when the sisters finally all took Payday away for a night. A night which after the speaker notes, “he’d see Payday, on the streets, his head hung love, his shirt untucked…He looked oddly adrift to me then, like a candy wrapper tossed by a gust of wind.” I can’t say much more about how well that all works as poetry, as commentary, as something that needs to be read.