Trickster Feminism

reviewed by Maya Phillips

Anne Waldman is no novice when it comes to dealing in mythopoetics, and in this new collection she continues some of the work begun in her feminist epic The Iovis Trilogy, once again challenging the patriarchal status quo. Waldman’s characteristic experimental play with form, diction, and syntax is present but under a new guise, that of a trickster speaker whose aural shape-shifting allows for a troubling of the wise-but-conniving female trope in literature and myth. The voice, however, isn’t limited to matters of the body and its politics, but also occupies a place in the real world: The poems reach out with references to the United States and our global relations, colonialist thought, the environment, and more. After all, “this is,” as Waldman says, “crisis /    intervention,” so these lines jump to attention with the urgency of protest. Each poem in this hefty collection uses a radically different approach to its subject, from the snappy, enjambed lines of “trick o’ death” and the staccato imperatives of “crepuscular” to the prose passages of “denouement.” Waldman’s trickster is nothing if not flexible, self-consciously slippery and aware of both the limits and opportunities of language and the body: “Body is inadequate concept although I love you body whatever you are whoever you are.” Despite the trickster’s goading and challenging interrogations in response to oppression, environmental decimation, and war, there are brief flashes of a world in which language does save the day through resistance, and ultimately this is where the book ends—on a compassionate plea, an unwavering call to action, and a pointed question to the reader: “will you step forward /    have a woman’s back? / this is the way it looks /    to be alive in disaster.”

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2018.