“…who shall measure the heat and violence of a poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?” – from A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
I am aware there is such a thing as narrative poetry, and I am not a fan of the narrative poetry form. However, who am I to say what a poetry form is? For example, what form defines a sonnet? Some 20th century sonnets are one letter per line so one word is spelled vertically. You know when you see it that the poem is a sonnet. Traditionalists will argue a sonnet must be iambic pentameter with exactly 14 lines ending with a heroic couplet. My “experimental” sonnets are not iambic but they do have 14 lines. Elizabeth Bishop’s posthumous published “Sonnet” (1979) is a reverse sonnet and is gorgeous. Back to narrative poetry, an essay can become a poem, maybe, while a poem can be an essay. Possibly the intended purpose of the poem or essay should dictate how it is pigeon-holed by its reader. But more often than not it is the form of the poem on the page that determines how it is perceived by the reader.
Letters, To The Men I Have Loved (2014) is a combination of letter/essays and poems written by Castro Mármol about and directed towards male family members and her former lovers. She admires and frets over her male relatives. She is very open with what happened between her and her lovers, and how that particular relationship ended messily. I have no idea how anyone can be that open about their relationships even when I, an absolute stranger, have no idea who these men are. I am originally from a small US Midwestern town where it is important to have everything about your life be private. There is a sharp divide between your public life and your private life. It is not about keeping secrets, but what happens between you and another person is not to be shared. So, reading about the relationships between Castro Mármol and her lovers was at first awkward. I can understand how this would be cathartic exercise and the artistic result is good. You don’t know anything about anything until you write about it. Some poets that I know would call the letter/essays poems in themselves, but I am not comfortable with that classification. The letter/essays convey something more than the poems. The letter/essays are better than the poems.
The poetry is the cathartic getting-over-the-relationship type that is universal among all humans even when they do not write poetry. The difference between the angst-wrung poetry most people write and throw in the trashcan and what Castro Mármol wrote is Castro Mármol’s poems are good. Some are breathtaking. If you have experienced a messy breakup, then you will empathize with her sentiments.
What I admire most about this collection is Castro Mármol writes as a woman and exclusively with a woman’s voice. The vast majority of Western women fiction, poets, and (especially) nonfiction writers write with a male slant even when the “voice” or “character” of the piece is female. I would argue it is an unconscious habit learned from equally unaware teachers. Historically a woman had to write, or imitate a “male” voice if she wanted a passing grade, to obtain a graduate degree, or to have her writing published. In A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf, Woolf discusses the necessity of a woman writing as a woman to be a complete human being and how, at the time she gave the lecture to a group of British, upper to middle class, women university students in 1928, writing as a woman was a precarious activity. Finding this collection by a woman poet writing as a woman on a national chain bookstore shelf as a new book makes me feel better about the world. I look forward to seeing what Castro Mármol does next.
Letters, To Men I Have Loved (ISBN: 978-1-4787-3590-8) can be found at bookstores, online through your favorite bookseller, and at your friendly public library. It was illustrated by Deanna First.
Castro Mármol’s website can be found at http://mirthamichelle.com/ .
A discussion (2000) on Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Sonnet” in The Atlantic. “Sonnet” was first published in 1979 three weeks after Bishop’s death. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/poetry/soundings/bishop.htm
Quotes from Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) via GoodReads. http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1315615-a-room-of-one-s-own