Rue: Poems

Enlightening with its gut-wrenching wisdom, Rue by Kathryn Nuernberger (The End of Pink) unapologetically dismantles the patriarchy and the bane of societal expectation through an ireful speaker's contemplative free verse.

The speaker in Nuernberger's third poetry collection finds her behavior incongruous with her imagined self. In professional settings, she uses "a lot of smiley faces and exclamation points... to iron [her]self disarming." She wants a divorce, but convinces herself that's crazy. Sexually assaulted by her male OB/GYN, she grapples with what she did wrong; similarly, she plays "nice" rather than being "mean" and reporting a stranger's unwanted touches. To cope, she retreats into biographies of female scientists (Maria Sibylla Merian, Anna Atkins) and artists (Diane Arbus, Lee Bontecou) whose work she admires--as well as plants that, like her, perform opposite actions; images that seem human but conjure a sense she's not.  

Between portraits of sexism and ruminations on identity, she catalogues plants once used to induce abortion. In doing so, she affirms how Mother Nature, even in beautiful forms like Queen Anne's lace and pennyroyal, wrests control away from men--"a woman flipping the patriarchy the bird." Multiple poems refer to women keeping silent as boxed rabbits, their "haunches... itching springs." Mermaids and centaurs in other poems further hint at undomesticated creatures aching to break free. Nuernberger's imagery forces readers to see what may at times be invisible--a true and furious inner being. Raising difficult questions, Nuernberger delivers a sublime meditation on womanhood and the complexity of the self. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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