Monday, February 5, 2018

Fables for Our Times: For Girls Forged by Lightning: Prose and other Poems, by Molly Fuller                                                                                       

                                                                          By the numbers: 
                  publisher: All Nations Press 
                                   P.O. Box 10821
                                   Tallahassee, FL 32301


                    ISBN: 978-0-9912721-1-2

                   74 pages


(Review written by Barbara Sabol.)

To be taken by surprise in the realm of literature is always a delight. In Girls Forged by Lightning, Molly Fuller's first full-length collection, we are by turns charmed, intrigued, provoked, and, poem-by-poem, surprised. Her territory here is the lyric fable, with a highly original and contemporary twist. The element of surprise is woven into both the creature-centric  poems and a balance of poems carrying a distinctly feminist sensibility, featuring women caught in perilous or limiting circumstances.

In the first of three sections in the book, many of the poems are populated by a unique bestiary: blackbirds, bears, bunnies, a family of ants, and field mice with human qualities, who speak, shapeshift, and scheme. The poems' titles, such as "The March Hares" and "The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies" are bright lures, leading the reader into unexpectedly dark waters. A running theme of transformation is first enacted here in the subversion of Goldilocks trope, in the mind-spinning poems, "The Three Bears" and "Blue Bear," where bears become humans become bears, and back. Girls grow from mulberry trees, change into horses, and are ridden to market in "Home Again, Home Again."

Water imagery and the figure of a drowning woman in "A Story about Ophelia," the second poem in the book, establish a trope for women in distress that flows through the next two sections. This compressed narrative establishes a critical tension between a woman's self-affirming and self-destructive choices―a tension enacted in a number of poems that follow. In the poem, Ophelia, standing "knee-deep in the water" laughs. The poem's speaker considers merging with the desperate Ophelia:

          . . . This laughter is a lovely sound. We all run to
          hear it. We want to join her. But what if we all get
          tangled in hair? What if she were to drown?

These two questions lie at the heart of many of the relationship-based poems in the latter sections: in "Cupcake" a figure called "Dollface" "thinks about thick sturdy roots beneath the/fragile lily pad, thinks about the writer's stong/hands. . ." In "Cherry Girl" ". . .Husband pushes her head under/water. The surface goes black. . ." And in startling and fresh language in the poem, "Girl Falling from the Sky," the "girl" figure

          . . .plunges into iciness. It is unbearable
          and joyful as her mouth clutches the water and her
          arms break the surface. How she wants to breathe, to
          breathe, breathe.      
A unifying element that coheres the poems is the consistent prose structure and  a predominantly direct, story-telling subject + verb + noun construction, which suits both the narrative form and the fable model. The seemingly simple, straight-forward syntax also entices us into an expectation of innocent enchantment  in poems about  a "Magpie" and "Blackbirds," as well as in those describing girls "falling from the sky," those "forged by lightning." And enchanted one becomes, even as narratives move into realms that disturb and at times alarm our sensibilities.

An additional unifying feature throughout this collection is an exploration of cruelty, whether  emotional and/or physical. A certain violence characterizes both the creature-based tales, exemplified by the "massacre" of the "The March Hares," saddling and riding girls "to market to see what price they will fetch." ("Home Again, Home Again,") and in those poems digging into the heartless sex and abuse that can occur in relationships ("Cherry Girl;" "Match"). The female figure in these poems does indeed merge with the drowning Ophelia, the woman nearly done in by love; but Fuller's figures endure, because of their self-affirming desire to breathe. 

The weight of these starker poems is wonderfully offset by those of transformation and a liberating self-awareness. In the poem, "Tumbling Up," for example, the poem opens with a beautiful declaration of self-preservation: "I promised myself that I wouldn't be that girl again, a/tide waiting for a moon,. . ." The poem ends with an image of transformation, as the speaker's legs, opening, transform "into butterfly wings." In a truly electrifying image in the title poem, a girl, molested and left "under an autumn oak," is literally transported out of her horror:

          She hears an electric sizzle, sees blind white. She
          feels a quickening, then a lightening as she is
          delivered beyond the tree roots, beyond the mud,
          and into a free-fall upwards past rain-soaked sky,
          into clear blue, the tree-tops far below. She unlocks
          her mouth, her hands. The stones fall to earth from
          her open palms.

And offset again in a beautiful impulse toward a release to love in one of the book's few love poems, "Birth Year," where the speaker acknowledges a lover's softer aspects, concedes the goodness of a certain love. In the final stanza of the poem, a gentle imperative:

          Realize we have the warmth of each other to hold in
          both hands, skin yellowing by night light, both soft
          as melting wax and the full moon settling in our laps.

The poet's feminist consciousness holds a mirror up to society's perspective of women, contextualized in the kitchen or the bedroom, a deserted field, who are designated for display "under glass," whose attempts to communicate are forever misunderstood ("Hide & Seek),  or one who awakens "without her underwear. Sharpie note on/her thigh We were here. . ." ("Lucky Girl.") This is a collection that does not shirk love's  unlovely underbelly; its rough-honed edges dovetail into the current movement of women pulling back the curtains that have long concealed exploitative and oppressive behavior. Despite the dark tonality of many of individual poems in this collection, as a body of work, they represent a brave  declaration of  self-worth, of identity, and of self-transformation.  For the strength of the work in this book, in addition to its topical relevancy, For Girls Forged by Lightning is a timely and important collection of poems.

In the book's introduction, the poet points to the fluid "boundaries between prose poetry, brief fiction and hybrid." These poems represent a unique hybrid form: prose/poems as compact architecture for contemporary fables and cautionary tales richly imaginative, often ominous, always surprising, and brimming with fabulous possibilities for interpretation.

The lovely Molly Fuller is the author of For Girls Forged by Lightning: Prose & Other Poems (All Nations Press), two chapbooks, The Neighborhood Psycho Dreams of Love (Cutty Wren Press) and Tender the Body (Spare Change Press)Her sequence Hold Your Breath was included in Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence (Marie Alexander/White Pine Press).  Her prose poems and micro fictions have appeared in journals and anthologies including 94 Creations, 100 Word Story, Blue Earth Review, Crack the Spine, Dressing Room Poetry Journal,Hot Metal Bridge,Kestrel,MadHatLit,NANO Fiction, TheOklahoma Review,Potomac, Quickly, and Union Station Magazine. She has been recognized as a Finalist for the Key West Literary Seminar Emerging Writer Award and as a Semi-Finalist for The Florida Review’s Jeanne Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award.  Fuller is also the co-editor of the book Community Boundaries and Border Crossings: Critical Essays on Ethnic Women Writers and co-editor at The Raymond Carver Review.She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently a Teaching Fellow in the Literature program at Kent State University.

                                                                Always grateful for the inspiration,

                                                                Barbara Sabol