cover image The Daughter of Man

The Daughter of Man

L.J. Sysko. Univ. of Arkansas, $17.95 trade paper (124p) ISBN 978-1-68226-230-6

Sysko’s witty debut skewers the patriarchy in poems that explore and upend the various societal roles women are expected to play. In sections named after stages of the female life cycle, such as “The Maiden” or “The Crone,” Sysko uses her impressive observational gifts and knack for finding the humor in the absurd to deconstruct stereotypes and present more authentic ways of expressing womanhood. Some entries capture the strangely nostalgic desire of children “brandishing hairbrush microphones/ like ambitious witches, gripping candy cigarettes” to play at adulthood. Others reinterpret the canon of Western art to dismantle the male gaze, but the irreverent poem “M.I.L.F” gets a hilarious rise out of the speaker’s experience of being ogled at a gas station: “His thoughts’ transit/ from M to F/ seems quick,/ prematurely coming/ without verification/ of my M status/ or the length, depth, or/ breadth of his own L.” As the collection enters “The Crone” phase, Sysko’s speaker reframes negative stereotypes in provocative ways: “Let’s be the type of witch who// sympathizes with the cauldron,/ —sinew to slime—,// forced to contain/ whatever’s considered/ appalling.” This whip-smart collection is a playful celebration of feminine power. (Apr.)