From the Publisher
“Julianna Baggott amazes with the scope of her imagination. Part biographer, part ventriloquist, part genius, she inhabits characters we thought we knewfrom Katharine Hepburn toHelen Keller. In reopening their lives, she is reopening history, retelling it intimately and urgently and wisely in the voices of the women themselves.Baggott's talent is almost spooky. Lizzie Borden in Love is a dangerous and elegant collection from one of America's finest young poets.” Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Great with Child and Tender Hooks
“With crispness and casual elegance, Baggott inhabits a startling variety of personalities and idioms. These monologues are always humanist, poetic without being poeticized, and unpreachily feminist.”Daisy Fried, author of My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again
“Baggott's positively oracular channeling of voices as diverse as Camille Claudel and Monica Lewinsky is so canny and artfully authentic that it seems possible that the poet here has truly acted as a spiritual medium for the muted and misrepresented voices she illuminates. This is a brilliant book and an essential read for both lovers of poetry and scholars wishing to understand the inheritance of silence that is the complicated birthright of contemporary women artists everywhere.”Erin Belieu, author of One Above and One Below and Black Box
Praire Schooner - Carrie Shipers
Julianna Baggott's second volume of poetry, the 2006 Editor's Choice winner from the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, is written in the voices of women ranging from Mary Todd Lincoln to Monica Lewinsky. Each poem situates its speaker in a particular historical moment: Lizzie Borden addresses the male jury at her murder trial; Mary Rockwell contemplates her son's fencing injury; Camille Claudel speaks from her studio and from the mental asylum where she was a patient. Whether the speakers in these poems are angry, grieving, desperate, or resigned, they all are armed with eloquence and insight into the circumstances that have shaped their lives, including societal expectations of feminine behavior. Arguing her innocence, Lizzie Borden uses these conventions to her advantage, reminding the jurors:
We ladies only know what we are taught.
We are your creations:
porcelain hands, hearts sublime.
We are not real-that's why
there were no footprints in the dust: We floatIn "Ida Saxton McKinley, the First Lady, Seizes during a Dinner Party," the speaker describes epilepsy as both "stored grief released / violently into the air" and "a secret pleasure." Explaining her illness to her husband, she notes:
The newspapers will call it a fainting spell
How delicate! How ladylike!
But this rugged habit is fit for cowboys.
(Do not look at me with your round eyes.)
Electric, one doctor said.
(Am I now a modem contrivance?)
McKinley values the "comfort" she derives from her seizures and the opportunity to escape her husband's-and the public's-expectations of proper behavior, which extend even as far as diagnosis-fainting spells are deemed more appropriate for a First Lady than epileptic seizures. Both poems highlight one of Baggott's strengths; the women in her poems speak with irony and humor as well as with anger or resentment. They also are well aware of their own complicity and guilt; while several of Baggott's subjects have entered the historical record as victims, the women in these poems do not see themselves as such.
The strongest poems in the collection are those in which the speakers address a specific, rather than a generalized audience; the poems addressed to other women are especially powerful because they allow their speakers to exist apart from the famous men in many of these women's lives. In "Dorothy Day's Daughter, Pregnant with Her Ninth Child, Begs Her Mother for Charity: A Bedtime Prayer," " the speaker confesses:
As a little girl,
I hated the smitten poor who followed you,
hauling their sun-boiled faces and stench.
But see how you have forced me to become one? How else to be loved by you?
By countering Day's career as a charity worker with the suffering of her daughter's family, Baggott's poem revises the historical record to allow for a more complicated portrait of Day, one that is less flattering but more accurate. Although a few of the poems in this volume are less surprising than a reader might hope, Baggott has crafted a gorgeous collection of poems that succeeds in clarifying and expanding the historical record. "Marie Curie Gives Advice to Her Daughter Irene before Her Wedding" concludes with the lines: "My hope, daughter, is that / what you love doesn't come to kill you, / eye by eye, ear by ear, bone by radiant bone." Baggott's poems succeed in illuminating the interiors of her speakers' consciousnesses and of history itself.