- Paperback: 52 pages
- Publisher: White Violet Press (April 30, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0615983146
- ISBN-13: 978-0615983141
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,933,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sisters and Courtesans Paperback – April 30, 2014
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"There is much to amuse, much to laugh aloud at, many moments for punching the air and some for closing the book to think for a while. And all in equal-sized poetic portions, each sonnet effortlessly crafted (never over-crafted) with content dictating form within each one, as it should.
I have spent time with a poet I am pleased to call 'sister', not least because she has touched often upon my own inner courtesan." ~ Ann Drysdale, Angle Journal of Poetry in English
About the Author
Anna M. Evans’ poems have appeared in the Harvard Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, American Arts Quarterly, and 32 Poems. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and is the Editor of the Raintown Review. Recipient of Fellowships from the MacDowell Artists' Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and winner of the 2012 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers' Choice Award, she currently teaches at West Windsor Art Center and Richard Stockton College of NJ. Her chapbook, The Stolen From: Poems About Memory & Alzheimer's, is available from Barefoot Muse Press.
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Top customer reviews
This collection of dramatic monologues in sonnet form sets out the Lives of 39 women who occupy different poles on the spectrum of sexuality. Many of the “Sisters” are virgins: nuns a Druidess, a Sworn Virgin of Albania, missionaries, a Tibetan Yogani; others are those who live by sexuality: concubines, kings’ mistresses, a saloon girl, a medieval camp follower, a Geisha, a gangster’s moll, a crack whore. Not all the poems fit neatly into these categories. Still, the dichotomy that gives the book its title generally holds true (I counted 19 “sisters” and 21 “courtesans”). Each set of characters opens the reader’s eyes to biographical circumstances that are alternately poignant, sad, joyous, sly, dignified, or raucous. The poems reveal an amazing range of emotion. They catalog a dazzling array of personality and experience.
An example or two will serve to illustrate this range. A poem that struck me as particularly moving was “My Life as an Anglo-Saxon Novitiate.” The voice suggests a young woman probably placed in a nunnery by her father (back then, marriages were arranged with no consideration of the desires of the bride; the same was true when a father decided a girl would become a “bride of Christ”). One senses her pain in the opening lines:
I was quite lonely here at first. Each day
Vespers took a long time coming round.
I missed our dog . . .
The Abbess of the convent, however, gets a dog for her. this provides comfort to the young woman:
. . . Now, when I rise
At Prime, she waits for me with wagging tale.
I feed her scraps and then on our long walk
She catches rabbits, hares, and once a quail.
I know it’s silent time, but I still talk
To her. I think we’re part of God’s great plan—
We can’t know how, just do the best we can.
A dog is a comfort for a girl consigned to a life of what Shakespeare called “enforcéd chastity.” Still, she will do the best she can to find her purpose and find small comfort in what has been decided for her.
On the other side of the coin is the Can-Can Dancer who marvels at the reaction of her male audience:
I flaunt my petticoats and flash my thighs—
High kicks, jump splits—it’s meant to be erotic.
They all want us—I see it in their eyes.
The choreography is so hypnotic . . .
She exalts as her male audience gapes and stares so much they “forget to drink their wine.” She is also rewarded financially:
I have my pick of whom I take to bed,
Letting them know that if they’re happy to
They may leave gifts of money. Most men do.
Calling the money a “gift” and not requiring it makes her activity legal so she cannot be arrested for prostitution. She revels in her power over men.
The book contains so many marvelous poems I could go on and on quoting them, but I’ll refrain from doing so for the sake of space. Some of my other favorites: “My Life as a Sworn Virgin of Albania,” on one of the women in that land who never marry, remain virgins, and dress and live as men; “My Life in the Jim Crow South,” with the voice of an African-American girl who rejoices when she hears, in church, that someone is planning to open a school where she can learn to read and writing (though the poem recognizes the dangers of the place and time and the sinister behavior to which she is subjected); “My Life as a Russian Orthodox Nun,” about a woman martyred in the Communist Revolution of 1917; “My Life As an Honest Courtesan of Venice,” with the voice of a successful high-class prostitute who warns, “Don’t ever dare to lump me in with whores” who dress cheaply and provocatively. So many more marvelous poems, I could keep on quoting them!
I said earlier that the book is “beautifully wrought.” The sonnets exhibit the peculiar eloquence of that art form. Their rhymes are natural, their form expressive, the meter light and musical (sonnet means “little song”). The form enhances and heightens the many voices one encounters in this book. The form enhances the drama, humor, pathos, and tenacity the reader will encounter making his or her way through this excellent collection.
The song by Donovan Leitch I referred to at the beginning was titled “The Season of the Witch.” In Evans’ book we get a witch or two (a Spae Wife and a Druidess—women with magical powers and transcendent wisdom). Sisters and Courtesans, however, covers a vastly wider range that includes nuns, whores, maidservants, wives, and a variety of other female voices.
Advice, conclusion: Get a copy! This is one of the finest sonnet collections I’ve ever read. The voices it represents provide moving portraits of women in different roles through the unfolding centuries.