Persephone in America

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Overview

In Persephone in America, Alison Townsend deftly weaves autobiography with myth in this reinvention of the tale of Demeter and Persephone as seen from the modern woman’s perspective. Fraught with emotional honesty, this captivating collection of lyrical and narrative poems chronicles the struggles of the figurative Persephone in three parts—the abduction, descent to the underworld, and return. Townsend turns a shrewd eye to her own experiences, as well as to the lives of other women, to offer an unflinching yet ...

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Persephone in America

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Overview

In Persephone in America, Alison Townsend deftly weaves autobiography with myth in this reinvention of the tale of Demeter and Persephone as seen from the modern woman’s perspective. Fraught with emotional honesty, this captivating collection of lyrical and narrative poems chronicles the struggles of the figurative Persephone in three parts—the abduction, descent to the underworld, and return. Townsend turns a shrewd eye to her own experiences, as well as to the lives of other women, to offer an unflinching yet deeply compassionate exploration of such themes as girlhood and the vulnerability of the motherless; the demons of depression, addiction, and abuse; as well as passion, aging, and celebration of the natural world.

            Although the poems traverse dark emotional territory at times, the picture that emerges ultimately is one of revelation and wisdom. Persephone in America is above all a journey of the soul, following the narrator as she explores what it means to be a woman in America, at times descending into darkness, only to emerge into redemption and realize “time’s sweet and invincible secret—that everything repeats—and we watch it.” Townsend’s candid portrait of female loss and discovery seeks to illuminate the truths inherent in myth, and the awakenings that hide in our darkest moments.

   Persephone, Pretending

                                                (Madison, Wisconsin)

When the news says that the girl

who had been missing almost four days,

only to be found in a marshy area

at the edge of our medium-sized city,

was faking it all along, I wondered

what made her do it.  I'd seen

her face—bright smile, dark eyes—

on a flier masking-taped to a pillar

at the airport the week before,

felt the involuntary frisson

of the curious, then only fear

at the thought of a girl abducted

in this place once voted

"America's most livable city."

She must have wanted

something she couldn't name,

that good girl with good grades

who looks like so many girls

in my own classes, but who keeps

changing her story.  It happened

here; no, it happened there; no,

I really just wanted to be alone.

Then she turns her face away,

tired of telling her tale,

not sure what to make up next

or where invention will take her.

“Fictitious victimization disorder,”

Time magazine claims, but I wonder

what else, imagining her in the marsh,

cold, unrepentant, powerless, her mind

gone muddy with lack of sleep,

no way out of this lie she almost

believes, or the lies ahead,

nothing but memory of the rope,

duct tape, cough medicine,

and knife she bought at the PDQ

with her own cash, wanting

to be taken by someone so badly,

she takes us, she does it to herself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“By constructing a new mythos about America’s life and soul, Alison Townsend portrays a renewal so abundant it becomes harder to renounce than embrace. Here, even the steps of a mini-skirted girl in a shopping mall resonate with ‘the great and ordinary mystery of being mortal.’ These poems are expansive yet tightly focused; unsentimental yet verdant.

They make you want to live the mystery.”—Sue William Silverman, author of Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You

“Through the lens-metaphor of Persephone’s story, Alison Townsend illuminates the passages, descents, losses and insights hard-won by herself and also by young women she has mentored, women who have made descents of their own into underworlds offered up by contemporary culture. Her poems are generous in their candor and compassion, stunningly written, fierce, and consoling.”—Leslie Ullman, author of Slow Work through Sand

Persephone in America is a magnificent book.  Alison Townsend poignantly and sometimes shockingly blends reimagined myth with reinvented autobiography.  Persephone, the abducted daughter of a goddess, is a would-be Barbie, a wild one, a flirt, an innocent, a rape victim, a cutter, a bulimic, a young poet, a girl who misses her mother, an artist’s model, a girl who loves to dance, a depressive, a married woman who has an abortion, and more. . . . Townsend comes at the ancient archetype from so many angles, all of them glittering with line-by-line, phrase-by-phrase richness and insight.  This is what revisionist mythology is all about:  the sacred and the demonic still alive in our time.”—Alicia Ostriker, author of No Heaven

 
“Alison Townsend’s Persephone in America is a collection of confidence and authority, a book that does not shirk from the difficult agendas it sets for itself. Townsend—both through her striking Persephone series and her quietly affecting autobiographical narratives—seeks to make sense of the difficulties of grace and renewal. Loss and mourning haunt these poems, but they also arrive at the long perspectives which can attend our middle years. James Wright famously sought to write ‘the poems of a grown man.’ Townsend’s poems are surely—and in places triumphantly—the poems of a grown woman. This book is a very fine achievement indeed.”—David Wojahn, author of  Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982–2004 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809328963
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 2/25/2009
  • Series: Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Series
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Alison Townsend is an associate professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. She is the author of And Still the Music, What the Body Knows, and The Blue Dress: Poems and Prose Poems.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    This is an awesome collection

    This is an awesome collection to have in one's own library.

    Everyone should own works by Alison Townsend, along with Ohio Blue Tips by Jeanne E. Clark and The Photos In The Closet by Daniel E. Lopez.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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