by Scott Owens
LET THE LADY SPEAK
by Nancy Posey
Highland Creek Books, 2010
So what makes a writer put into words all the joyous, difficult, embarrassing, sad truths of one’s life? Hunger. A hunger unlike that known by animals, a hunger that cannot be named but can be endlessly described. The same hunger that Nancy Posey knowingly saves for the last poem in her new collection Let the Lady Speak. Ironically, the summative hunger, the hunger of all humanity, she captures in the poem “Hungry” is the first hunger of humanity: Eve’s hunger to be, fully, to partake of existence consciously, to experience and speak truly. In the poem, Eve says, “Who could have blamed me if I had said, when asked / why, I was just so hungry, and the fruit looked so good.”
The poems in Let the Lady Speak seek to express, with a particularly feminine quality, that hunger for conscious, autonomous existence, and in expressing it to, at least temporarily and partially, satisfy it. James Agee’s classic book of Southern culture is called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a title taken from the ancient Hebrew text, Ecclesiasticus. Posey’s title could just as easily be Let Us Now Praise Famous Women, as the poems juxtapose the voices of Scarlet O’Hara, Guenevere, Amelia Earhart, Hamlet’s Gertrude, Eve, and Penelope with the voices of the poet, the poet’s mother, the poet’s daughter, etc. But Posey’s actual title hearkens back to a tradition just as old as that invoked by Agee, namely that of patriarchy and misogyny. Most of us have little difficulty remembering a time when women often had to be given such permission as the title implies in order to speak or at least be listened to, and so the hunger expressed in these poems is not just the human hunger to experience the world and speak of it but a somewhat more frustrated and still sometimes denied feminine hunger.
The wonderful thing about these poems is that this deep feminist subtext is just that, a subtext. The surface of the poems is much less serious, much more readily accessible, even playful, such that any reader, feminist or otherwise, philosopher or pleasure-reader, can find enjoyment in them. Take these lines, for example, from “Or Maybe the Day after That,” spoken by Scarlet O’Hara:
Right now I have no plans
to make plans. Instead,
I’m going to sit right here
at the foot of the stairs
and have a good cry,
and I don’t care if anyone
gives a damn or not.
Maybe tomorrow my thoughts
will come clearer — or
maybe the day after that.
Certainly there is a great deal about life and our approach to it for the literary critic, the hermeneutist, the philosopher to consider in these lines, but most of us, regardless of how “deeply” we want to read, would enjoy the playfulness of hearing Scarlet’s most famous line revisited and playfully combined with Rhett’s.
A similar playfulness appears in “unvoiced” poems like the wonderfully titled “Hippopotomonstosesquippedaliophobia,” which according to the epigraph means “fear of big words.” The speaker of this surprising and tender love poem begins, “Shunning Latinate constructions, I choose / instead the simple Anglo-Saxon / monosyllabic words.” Then, true to her word, she concludes with the monosyllabic proclamation, “We will share one sweet kiss.”
A considerably less playful revisitation of familiar perspectives is offered in several poems, including “Guenevere,” where the title character grows cynical and impatient with the limitations of traditional roles and expectations. She knows, as always, that she will “be set / free before” she bursts “into flames” and that “the one / who makes the move / will certainly expect” her “gratitude to burn / hotter than this fire,” but she has become disenchanted with this cat and mouse game in which she is always the object and never the subject, always the acted upon and never the actor. She confesses, “I now feel / cold as a winter cave, / surrounded but alone.”
Whether playful or serious, familiar or exotic, what arises from all of the voices of these poems is the singular voice of a contemporary woman full of the complexities such identity would imply. Sincere, accessible, insightful, and charming, ultimately, the poems in Nancy Posey’s Let the Lady Speak are in a voice we can all enjoy . . . and learn from.