Dear Anne Champion,
I don’t know how to write about this book. It contains a rage that usually only silence can hold. So I will start with a story:
I saw a therapist for a year. I hated men, in a quiet way I would always deny. My therapist picked up on it from little things: my irrational fear of windows and being looked at through them, my fear of my own body, and my wild protectiveness over the women in my life. She saw my poetry as an opportunity to redeem men and myself. To complicate the world a little, to make it less black and white.
I wrote something. Less a chapbook, more so a mirror.
But your book, The Good Girl is Always a Ghost, is the book I needed to know, not write. My therapist was right; that poetry was my avenue to moving forward, but she was wrong about the hierarchy of needs. I did not need to redeem men and then myself. I needed to redeem myself, then women, and connect us. That is what this book does. It feels as though it let me in on a secret that I had no idea I was keeping. A secret that “when women squealed / it was only at realizing they could save themselves.” How “a woman’s smile / can be a muzzle.” How “the finest thing a woman can wear is her untethering.”
Every poem you write is a reflection of Woman’s experience and catches in the back of my throat like a scream. I feel anger. I feel comfort. I feel productive rage, near blinding. From your poems exalting these women to the 41 biographies of them, you give a voice and context to those who remain largely voiceless in our history. It reads like an encyclopedia of womanly captivity, which in turn, brings the captivity to light. From the censored life of First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis, to the tortured cruelty of Aileen Wuornos, the first recorded female serial killer, I see in your writing just how deeply the male gaze permeates everything. This makes the fact that there isn’t a single cis-male main voice in the book even more imperative. I never really think about the fact that I don’t exist in spaces that are reserved only for women and people who are transgender. The only ones set up for us are sororities and convents, which generally exist at two extremes of the spectrum.
Even when we do have all-women stories, we so often homogenize them, (as I have just done with sororities and convents—forgive me) make all women into a nurturing bunch of kind nuns, or a sexualized group of party girls. This book takes women who have been placed in these boxes, like Mae West, Bettie Page, and Marilyn Monroe, and explodes them out of the boxes. How Marilyn didn’t “teach me how to be beautiful; you exposed / what the world does to a beautiful woman when everyone starves / for her, when you have no choice but to let them feast / on your body.” How sexual freedom even becomes a cage.
We move on to women of power, who we can surely put into a box as the stoic prude. But no. Women like Indira Gandhi, Meena Keshwar Kamal, and Rosa Parks, who all push so hard for our untethering. Indira, who is called an “old hag” in the poem because of her perceived unsexuality which makes her useless in the male gaze. An emotion we all are aware of. The look in a man’s eyes after I tell him I’m lesbian, until he decides that, too, can be sexualized.
This book is not all rage. It is hope and communion among women. It is reminders of our outstanding beauty and worth. It is a lesson and a prayer.
This book was what a release for me to read, and provided a new space to sit in with women I had never related to before.
Thank you for seeing and speaking so clearly,