Every once in a while you come across a poetry collection that simply knocks you out. Angela M. Carter’s Memory Chose A Woman’s Body is one of those collections. But this is much more than “just” a collection of poetry. It’s a personal statement, an artistic journey, an act of healing. Billed as a “poetic memoir”, the poems within reflect important moments of the poet’s life, ranging from childhood all the way through the present time - the moment in which poetry itself becomes the source of healing. Poetry Saved My Life reads:
In times that I am able to be
I call and write
to something higher than I.
I must be who I am for a reason
I was stitched
into these imperfect squares for a reason,
and my visionary mind built to
conceive these words
I now write.
Poetry, you beautiful, intense creature:
You saved my life.
There are much darker poems here, many of which tackle subjects many will find uncomfortable to contemplate - sexual abuse, loss of loved ones, feeling ignored and unwanted, reflections on body image, how past pain effects finding healthy relationships, despair, loneliness - but none of these poems are off putting by their tough subject matter. In fact they are written with such depth and feeling that the reader can’t help but feel anything other than empathy. In some sense, we’ve all felt this way, despite the fact that these are the poet’s very deeply personal experiences.
My personal favorites are Splinter - where a childhood memory of having a splinter removed becomes a metaphor for childhood pain. “Look away if it hurts”, she is told, and how that simple piece of advice becomes to mean so much more later on in life; The Broach - where the poet encounters people along her travels who tell her that they “never seen one wear pain like it was a shiny thing, like it was a broach with no face, pinned atop my coat.”; Grunge Days - a reflection on adolescent years, where the realization that “As adults, we manifest our former selves, how daring we were, how things that we once did could have ruined our lives” and in the end knowing “there’s a whole world wanting to feel touched by something and we still aren’t open to being reached by anything but doubt”; and my absolute favorite, the heartbreakingly powerful Positively Negative Pregnancy Test - a rumination on a child lost in utero: “I just found out that you will never be born. You never were. Planet Pluto, now just a moon”. The other poems in this collection are no less powerful and each one of these works pull you right into her experience and live them along beside her.
Ultimately, these poems speak to the notion that no one ever knows what lies ahead of them; one never truly knows what experiences one has had in their life and in that sense we can never truly know another as much as we like to think we do. Or is there that possibility? Is there that one person out there who you connect with so well that they get it, that they truly understand? These works also speaks to how important events in one’s childhood can permanently etch themselves into a person’s being; how crucial these formative years actually are for all of us, how destructive silence can be and in the end how art can be a powerful redemptive force in one’s life.