So I just finished reading, and tweeting from, Sarah Freligh’s chapbook A Brief Natural History of an American Girl. You can read back through the tweets in the box on right. These 17 poems weave a story of a teenage woman’s sexual curiosity and discoveries, told reflectively from an older voice. The territory of how teen sex opens but also limits young women has been told expertly many times, although we still need more and more of these stories in a culture where the measure of sexual experience is the male orgasm, and where we have no word to describe sex that was legally consensual but left young women feeling violated, hollow, used only to give pleasure to someone else. We especially have no single word for the experience of a sexual interaction that both parties enjoyed, that a young women felt made her special or feel special, only to find the details smeared across her social world as dirty or shameful or as her having been “had.”
In the face of those silences, poems like Freligh’s matter. I think, too, of Joan Larkin’s crown of sonnets on this subject, or of Kathie Dobie’s memoir The Only Girl in the Car. The center of Freligh’s poems is not the sexual violence Dobie describes but another intense pain – becoming pregnant and giving the child away. Three of the seventeen poems take this on directly, but others in her emotionally dense book circle around the loss, including poems about her relationship to her mother and her mother’s death.
My favorite poem comes near the end, a tragi-comedy reflection on being a middle-aged woman:
The rooster no longer cocks
his doodle doo at me now
that I can’t hatch eggs.
Old hen: all fruitless
tubes and bristled
the sestina to freshmen
yesterday, I farted. What’s
next? Leak of urine, I guess,
unexpected, like the day
in eighth grade when I felt
the pinch of a tiny hand
wring my insides: the slide,
the trickle, the long walk
to the desk for a hall pass praying
nothing showed. Years later
when I’d say thank you,
Jesus, or god damn.
You can buy the chapbook through Accents Publishing. You can find out more about Sarah (a former sports writer for the Philly Inquirer) here: Sarah Freligh
I loved this little but powerful chapbook!
Thanks for this very insightful review of my book!
You’re so welcome! I really enjoyed it – a large, dense, emotional terrain for a small book!