KRISTIN BERKEY-ABBOTT Reviews
Faulkner’s Rosary by Sarah Vap
(Saturnalia Books, Ardmore, PA, 2010)
Feminist scholars and readers have long known that female writers who dwell in the world of the woman’s body risk alienating readers and being pigeonholed in any number of unpleasant ways. Happily, we now have a body of work from writers who have nonetheless fearlessly explored the question of what it means to live in a world with a woman’s body. Faulkner’s Rosary, by Sarah Vap, both falls into that tradition and transcends it.
The arc of the book explores a woman’s body as it brings a baby to term. These poems are full of inchoate mystery, as pregnancy poems so often are. Who amongst us has not marveled at the idea of conception, the way that several cells come together and sort themselves into a baby? Vap puts it more poetically: “Assembling / within me, our slightest idea / turned into roselight and chained / behind the sternum” (“Linea Nigra: cross of jubilee”).
If Vap had only offered poems that gave us unique insights into pregnancy, poems which made us see pregnancy in ways that we’d never seen it before, that would be enough. But Vap does so much more.
These poems also explore family histories while talking about the new life under creation. We learn: “. . . I was fathered by the angel who tells / the story of a Victorian house, buried / underground. It was built by aliens. It’s fully intact. / It’s discovered by his children” (“Fink, Punk, Nincompoop, Honky-tonk, Sunlight, Sunnysideup, Ding-a-Ling, Tiger”). In “Return, return, return (Jimenez); Contact! Contact! (Thoreau),” we learn that this child has a “great-granny who wore her thimble out / every couple of years. And great-grandmother who wore / the artificial lilacs in her hair. My women.”
Vap also taps into a larger cultural motif by weaving Mary, the mother of Christ, throughout these poems. Poets who explore pregnancy have a variety of archetypes and ready-made cultural artifacts to use. Vap acknowledges her variety of choices in the poem “To be breathed-in by a god,” where she lists an assortment of Marys, from the Virgin Mary to Mary Kay to Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. This brief poem wrestle with the question about who is lost when we use these cultural archetypes and answers “and we have lost the girl.”
Some of Vap’s most moving poems combine details of maternal history with religious themes. Her most stunning example of this accomplishment is “Call,” where the speaker tries to trace a lineage, only to realize how much information has been lost. The speaker realizes “. . . My women’s catechism / is the plain string of beads, is the pew, / is the pieta . . .” The poem makes the connections between mythical women and real women in a legacy of choosing love.
This collection of poems offers so much to such a wide variety of readers: theology, physiology, mythology, history, and anthropology. Vap manages to weave many strands into a fascinating tapestry, a textured treat.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott earned a Ph.D. in British Literature from the University of South Carolina. Pudding House Publications published her chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard, in 2004. Her second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. Currently, she teaches English and Creative Writing at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and serves as Chair of the General Education department. She blogs about books, creativity, poetry, and modern life at http://kristinberkey-abbott.blogspot.com and about theology at http://liberationtheologylutheran.blogspot.com. Her website is www.kristinberkey-abbott.com.