Angela Veronica Wong. Black Radish, $17 trade paper (82p) ISBN 978-0-9979524-2-1
In her second full-length collection, Wong (How to Survive a Hotel Fire) follows the exploits of Elsa, an 18th-century courtesan living at Versailles’s Parc aux Cerfs along with the other mistresses of Louis XV. Wong explores the confines and contradictions of patriarchy, the injustices of imperialism and class division, and the fever-pitch potential of revolution. All of the poems are sonnet variations, which serves Wong in illustrating occasions of rebellion within a constricted environment. Wong describes Elsa as “a girl/ fashioned from sticks and whale blubber” and “a ginger/ cat stalking the moonlight” and addresses her directly: “Don’t meddle in/ politics, Elsa, but if you do,/ practice becoming the Queen of France.” Elsa, ferried to France as a girl in a cage, is reduced to animal stature and kept like the rest of the king’s menagerie. The poems and the relationships described therein witness intersecting sex and violence; there are predators and prey, though these designations are constantly in flux and precarious in the face of revolt: “The nobility/ are great trees losing their roots, still proud/ of their foliage.” As an imagined history, this book is rich with sensory detail and shrewd interpersonal politics; as a screed on the perpetual cycle of objectification, it is timely and stirring. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/15/2017
Genre: Fiction
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