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Becoming the Villainess Paperback – March 5, 2006
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Jeannine Hall Gaileys poetry will unleash anyones inner "Bad Girl." Alternately funny, violent, wicked, and sad, Gailey presents mythic archetypes in a surprising new light against a backdrop of pop culture, Ovid, Grimms fairy tales, and the struggles of contemporary women, in surprisingly refreshing poems like "When Red Becomes the Wolf" and the title poem, "Becoming the Villainess." A strong follow-up to her chapbook Female Comic Book Superheroes (Pudding House Press 2005), in Becoming the Villainess "Gailey writes with a voice full of wit and charm that keeps the reader somewhat off balance," declares Colleen McElroy, winner of the American Book Award, professor at the University of Washington, and editor of The Seattle Review. "She serves a dish of fairy tales and myths, part vixen and part Carol Burnett. Hers is an edginess that makes new those tales with which we are familiar." Steel Toe Books selected Becoming the Villainess as its first solicited manuscript.
We at Steel Toe Books concur with Ilya Kaminsky, winner of the prestigious Whiting Writer's Award and the Dorset Prize, when he states that "in this splendidly entertaining debut, Jeannine Hall Gailey offers us a world both familiar and magical.... The wild and seductive energy in this collection never lets one put the book down... Her delivery is heart-breaking and refreshing, so the poems seduce us with the sadness, glory and entertainment of our very own days. Propelled by Jeannine Hall Gaileys alert, sensuous and musical gifts, the mythology becomes our own."
Gailey, who earned an MA in English at the University of Cincinnati and is pursuing her MFA at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, is a master at weaving her pop-culture poems, such as "Spy Girls" and "Amazon Women on the Moon," with classical myth and fairy tales, in poems like "Cinderella at the Car Dealership" and "Playing Softball With Persephone," that in the words of Dorianne Laux "give dimension to the powerful (and powerless) female heroes of myth and comic books that struggle against the stereotype and silence." Heres an excerpt from Gaileys Pushcart Prize-nominated poem "Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon": My daily transformation
from prim kitten-bowed suit to bustier
is less disturbing. The invisible jet
makes for clean escapes. The animals are my spies and allies;
inexplicably, snow-feathered doves
appear in my hands. I capture Nazis and Martians with boomerang grace.
When I turn and turn, the music plays louder,
the glow around me burns white-hot, I become everything I was born to be,
the dreams of the mother,
the threat of the father.
Gaileys poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Columbia Poetry Review, Verse Daily, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Rattle, and 32 Poems, among others. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband.
About the Author
Jeannine Hall Gailey has a Master's Degree in English from the University of Cincinnati, and is currently studying for her MFA in Poetry at Pacific University. She volunteers as a literary magazine and book reviewer at NewPages.com and also as Web editor (and currently, Guest Poetry Editor) at The Raven Chronicles. She also has a chapbook, Female Comic Book Superheroes, published by Pudding House Press.
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Rather, it's about giving voice to the voiceless whether their stories end happily or not. There is the story of Procne and Philomel, which arcs across the entire collection as Gailey unravels more about their struggles with fate and their final transformation with each poem. Gailey's skill in weaving voices is no more present than in "Remembering Philomel" which portrays the shared experience of Ovid's ("ah-vid, not oh-vid") tragic princess of Athens and a female college student. We see Persephone several times set against the backdrop of the modern-day, but with the same tug-of-war pull between seasons.
And for comic book/spy fans, we hear the voices of Sydney Bristow in "Spy Girls," Buffy Summers in "The Slayer Asks for Time Off," Lara Croft in "Dirge For a Video Game Heroine: On Dying Again," and Princess Diana of Themyscira in "Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon." Speaking of tropes, we have the collection of superheros' girlfriends and/or nemeses speaking in "Women in Refrigerators" where they add, "If we're lucky, we might become the villainess." And then, there is the tribute to "Female Comic Book Superheroes" of all types who still "are always fighting evil in a thong,/ pulsing techno soundtrack in the background/ as their tiny ankles thwack/ against the bulk of male thugs."
And the fairy tales are not to be forgotten, of course. In addition to Cinderella whose prince "encase[s] [her] tiny feet in glass/ to keep them from scorching the ground" ("Little Cinder") and Alice, the step-mothers and snow queens get a chance to explain their side of the story as well.
Gailey tackles fairy tales, mythology, and comic books from all sides, but she bonds the women together in a common thread in struggling to understand themselves and be understood in the midst of love, pain, and overall ass-kickery. It's a collection you will keep coming back to.
The imagery is at turns whimsical and horrifying. The author does not avoid the horror of Philomel's rape and mutilation, nor her sister's unspeakable revenge. Even more powerful to me, however, was the Selkie Wife's Daughter, who laments that her mother left her "the knowledge that she was never herself with me."
At turns exotic and familiar, magical and poignantly mundane, this is a book to treasure if you love poetry, and a book to try again with if you have never 'gotten' poetry in the past. Definitely not for children, although a mature teen will find much to enjoy and question.
Gailey's images are crisp and immediate with recurring uses of pomegranates, wolves, and other items. Alice in Wonderland, Wonder Woman, Persephone, and many more make appearances in Becoming the Villainess, which is separated into five parts. At the end of the book, Gailey includes brief descriptions of the myths inspiring the poems enclosed within its pages.
Each section in Becoming the Villainess examines the evolution of female characters from innocent girls to darker, vengeful women, but these characters are deeper than stereotypical comic book characters, mothers, and goddesses. While some of these poems have a lighter, tongue-in-cheek quality to them, some of them drive home the deep dark horrors found in many legends, myths, and real-life events. One particularly jarring poem in the collection is "Remembering Philomel," in which a professor is asking for grittier details of the narrator's sexual assault.
Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a wonderfully insightful collection that looks beneath the surface of myths and sexy comic book characters to find their motivation, their desires, and spunk.
Gailey navigates popular culture, contemporary feminism, fairy tales, superheroes and the world of electronica with terrific finesse and a sharp sense of humor. Her voice rings clear as a bell in this collection and I can't wait to see what she's got next.
She could be a Billy Collins for the younger women in contemporary America who have already traced the roots of their power back to Suffrage and see that feminism isn't just about bra-burning and symbology, but about using what our mothers gave us: voices, brains, and mettle.