The voices of Mrs. Tiresias, Mrs. Faust, Mrs. Quasimodo and other wives wittily recast myth and history from a woman's point of view in the pages of Manchester-based Duffy's fifth collection. Self-contained Penelope is not waiting for her Odysseus; frustrated Mrs. Sisyphus is married to a workaholic; Pygmalion's statue, tired of being pestered by her groping suitor, ""changed tack/ grew warm, like candle wax/ kissed back""--and after sex gets dumped. But while Duffy's revisionist dramatic monologues are rife with clever twists, this material has been well mined by such poets as Alta, Margaret Atwood and Alicia Ostriker. Even references to Viagra, sheep-cloning and Monica Lewinsky seem an updating of Transformations (1971), Anne Sexton's deadpan fairy tales studded with cultural references, with the poems trapped in a similarly polarized conception of gender relations. Thus Thetis is brutalized in a new way each time she changes form--man is cross-bow to her albatross, charmer to her snake, fisherman to her mermaid--and to Queen Herod, the Christ child is simply a threat to her infant girl: he's ""The Wolf. The Rip. The Rake. The Rat./The Heartbreaker. The Ladykiller. Mr. Right."" The luckiest in love is Mrs. Beast, married to a devoted creature that's hung like a mule, and just as hardworking: ""And if his snot and trotters fouled/ my damask sheets, why, then, he'd wash them. Twice."" The flippant tone elicits chuckles, but one imagines these characters would've come a longer way by now, baby. (Apr.) FYI: Duffy's anthology Time's Tidings: Greeting the 21st Century includes 50 contemporary poets, each of whom is represented by a poem of his or her own on ""time,"" and by a favorite poem on the same subject. (Anvil [Dufour, dist.], $18.95 paper 160p ISBN 0-85646-313-2).
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000 Release date: 04/01/2000 Genre: Fiction