By: Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolden, and Vivian Teter
Reviewed by: Kyes Stevens
Toadlily Press, 2007
Edge by Edge is a collection of four chapbooks with poems by Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolden, and Vivian Teter. This review will focus on Emma Bolden’s chapbook How To Recognize a Lady because she is an Alabama poet, who currently teaches at Auburn University.
In Bolden’s chapbook, the reader will find sharp and unabashedly direct poems pushed and pulled by the lilt of language, and then bitten back to the driving point by words skillfully crafted that show what women are subjected to in society’s written and unwritten rules. Bolden’s selection begins with her title poem, influenced by Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living, 1952.
A stanza from the poem reads, “She is the twelfth rib gone stray. She is the slide stuck with / whalebone stays. She hides herself, lacking a suitable silk. She / scrubs her hands spotless when burning soft coal.” This poem, like the others in the selection, does not apologize. Within beautiful poetic language, there is rawness, but there is also longing. The poems balance between observations on societal-set expectations for women and the unreasonable strain that puts on the psyche, but they are also poems that pine for acceptance—to know truly that the self is enough without any prescribed rules for living and being, that the body, the woman, deserves to let herself be, free from all that serves to stifle and contain it.
“The Unfinished Body” reads in part: “I wanted at last to live honestly / . . .my skin a red lie / . . . What / was true? A clear wave at morning, / a dress of stars at noon, at night / the edge where asphalt meets field.” Answering the question “What was true?” makes these poems resonate clearly, loudly, a toll in the air that reverberates.
The poems in How To Recognize a Lady seem more than twelve in number because they are not neat little poems tied up with a bow. They bite. They push the reader to pay attention to what drives us to do what we do. The poems Emma Bolden has made stick with you, so that you might also recognize the person within who hides the self because she has nothing society deems suitable to wear.
Kyes Stevens is a poet who lives in Waverly, Alabama.