cover image Truth of My Songs: Poems of the Trobairitz

Truth of My Songs: Poems of the Trobairitz

Claudia Keelan. Omnidawn (UPNE, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-63243-002-1

Keelan (O, Heart) produces refreshing and contemporary renderings of the poems of the trobairitz, women troubadours in 12th-century Provence. These songs of love and those who thwarted the quest to achieve it are, according to Keelan, "believed to be the first sustained, cultural instance of woman’s writing." The trobairitz navigated claustrophobic restrictions caused by gender, audience, lauenziers (gossips or spies), repetitive poetic conventions, and the religious and cultural context of their lives. Yet despite this they burst forth with hilarious and heartbreaking poems of exquisite sophistication, inspired by what Keelan calls the "power within powerlessness." As she resculpts the work of the trobairitz, she draws on the movement and wordplay of hip-hop as well as the tragedy and twang of country music. With such wild variation, each piece retains its distinct voice, personality, and emotional timbre. In one song, an anonymous singer’s lament over laws restricting rich dress, Keelan reboots an age-old call for women’s rights to address a contemporary audience: "Ladies and Gentlemen,/ send word to the men who power,/ tell them our bodies/ aren’t to blame for the millennium/ of shame brought in every hour/ from the usual choir/ who degrades Our names." It’s a fitting tribute to forebears whose message remains potent today. (Apr.)