There are ten poems altogether in this book, or pamphlet. They are very angry poems about domestic violence, anorexia, mastectomy, and other forms of oppression. They depict women as either victims (“In His Own Image,” “Anorexic,” “Mastectomy,” “Menses,”) or subversive outsiders (a blasphemous votary of fire in “Solitary,” a witch in “Witching,” a stripper in “Exhibitionist”). Men appear as abuser:
He splits my lip with his fist,
shadows my eyes with a blow,
knuckles my neck to its proper angle (from “In His Own Image”);
or robber, in the guise of medical personnel:
to their looting
to the sleight
of their plunder.
I am a brute site.
Theirs is the true booty (from “Mastectomy”);
or porn addict:
I’ll show them how
blind on files,
my curves and arcs (from “Exhibitionist).
The speaker in these poems doesn’t seem to like other women much either. In “Menses,” she envies the plants in her garden that grow from their own stamens, without the messiness of birth, and compares these plants to “street-walkers, /lesbians,/ nuns.” In fact, the speaker doesn’t seem to like herself very much. “My body is a witch, “ she announces in “Anorexic,” “I am burning it.” The poems are angry; the poems are hateful. Accusations fly indiscriminately like a shower of arrows. Proclamations of victories ring hollow.
Ironically, despite the tirade against the mimic muse, the figurative language sounds more like mimicry than before. The exhibitionist-stripper recalls Plath; the witch reminds me of Anne Sexton. Boland’s language is so bare (as if that quality guarantees authenticity) that she often tries to kick it up a notch by using words as a part of speech they are not normally used as. So, for instance, in “Mastectomy,” the speaker recognized
across his desk.
The radical change in prosody is striking. Most of these poems are written in very short lines (with two or three heavy stresses), with occasional end-rhymes, and in regular stanzas. The best poem of the book “In Her Own Image” makes effective use of this new prosody. The six stanzas each has five lines. After the poem has set up the circular imagery of eyes and wedding ring to describe an alienated past self, stanza 3 presses the simple words into a compact round:
She is not myself
anymore she is not
even in my sky
anymore and I
am not myself.
The turn takes place neatly in the middle of the poem, after the third stanza quoted above:
I will not disfigure
her pretty face.
Let her wear amethyst thumbprints,
a family heirloom,
a sort of burial necklace.
Line three is a sharp image suggesting strangulation. The speaker knows where to bury her strangled former self: “where the lettuce seeds,/ where the jasmine springs/ no surprises.”