I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of Theodora Goss’s poetry collection, “Songs for Ophelia”, and it has taken me an absolutely inexcusable amount of time to post about it here. There are two reasons for this. Partly, as ever, depression things–getting out of bed has taken all my attention, leaving little extra for blogging of any substance. And partly, I didn’t want to finish reading. Not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s so wonderful.
I’m reminded of the Faerie Market from Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust”, and the glass and crystal flowers that were sold there. They seemed to be simple faerie trifles, chiefly decorative, meant only to entertain and give pleasure. But, as Tristran eventually learned, the one his father gave him was really a frozen charm, a thing of power. The same is true of the poems in this book. At first glance they seem to be simple, pretty little verses, pleasing to read but nothing of great power, but this is just a trick to lure you in, and soon you find that you’ve been wandering through the land of the faeries for ages and you’re not quite sure how to get back home. You’re not quite sure you even want to.
Catherynne M. Valente says it best in the introduction:
But of course, that can’t be right. I must be mistaken. Nothing elegant can be raw. Nothing delicate can break your heart. Nothing otherworldly can say anything real about the human experience. Everyone knows that. It is a universal truth, held universally.
I guess nobody told Theodora Goss. What good fortune for the rest of us.
The poems are divided into four sections, one for each season. I liked the spring and autumn sections best, but there really isn’t a bad poem in the bunch. They all showcase Theodora Goss’s graceful, lyrical writing beautifully, and they all possess a certain hidden sting, a lingering thorn-prick to the heart. They were the very best medicine to get me through the difficult months of summer when all I wanted to do was retreat to a cool, dark cave and be silent and still. A necessary reminder that there is beauty and life in every season.
I am very interested in writing about and for daughters, despite the fact that I never intend to have any of my own, so I was particularly delighted to see an example of this here.
Advice to a Daughter
The moon’s the mistress for you: bind up your long brown hair,
and enter into her workshop, and learn her dark technique.
Learn to alter and falter and fatten, week to week;
learn to glide without turning, and silently stare and stare.
Learn her blank luminescence, and learn to daily draw
the seas of all the world without need of net or sieve,
to trail upon their waters one negligent white sleeve
and confound the bearded sages with inimitable law.
And, as anyone who knows me could attest, autumn is my favorite season, the only one during which I feel truly alive, so I was immediately drawn to this gorgeous example of everything I love about it.
You are not alone.
If they could, the oaks would bend down to take your hands,
bowing and saying, Lady, come dance with us.
The elder bushes would offer their berries to hang
from your ears or around your neck.
The wild clematis known as Traveler’s Joy
would give you its star-shaped blossoms for your crown.
And the maples would offer their leaves,
russet and amber and gold,
for your ball gown.
The wild geese flying south would call to you, Lady,
we will tell your sister, Summer, that you are well.
You would reply, Yes, bring her this news –
the world is old, old, yet we have friends.
The squirrels gathering nuts, the garnet hips
of the wild roses, the birches with their white bark.
You would dress yourself in mist and early frost
to tread the autumn dances – the dance of fire
and fallen leaves, the expectation of snow.
And when your sister Winter pays a visit,
You would give her tea in a ceramic cup,
bread and honey on a wooden plate.
You would nod, as women do, and tell each other,
The world is more magical than we know.
You are not alone.
Listen: the pines are whispering their love,
and the sky herself, gray and low, bends down
to kiss you on both cheeks. Daughter, she says,
I am always with you. Listen: my winds are singing
These are just a couple of the treasures to be found in this collection, and if you like poetry, or beautiful things, or fairy tales, I urge you to get a copy and see for yourself. The pages are bursting with fairy tale allusions, elves, goblins, princesses, and old, elemental magics. Just be sure to take something with you to remind you of the way back home, lest you be eternally lost in a darkly enchanted forest.
You can buy “Songs for Ophelia” from Amazon, or you can buy it from Papaveria Press, along with Theodora Goss’s other collection, “In the Forest of Forgetting”. And while I’m sharing links, you should read this blog post where she talks about the collection, and about writing poetry, and about doing what you fear.