Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blameless Mouth – the Stories We Tell

Poet Jessica Fox-Wilson knows a basic & important truth: we are made of stories.  These are the stories we inherit culturally, the stories of family, the stories we tell about ourselves, the stories told by our peers.  But this poet knows something even more important—we have the ability to re-tell & re-shape those stories, to configure them in line with our own experience & to find a truth in them that isn’t the “received” truth of their packaging.

This is the task Fox-Wilson tackles in her debut collection, Blameless Mouth; she sets herself the task of exploring stories about hunger, consumption, satiety & want both culturally & in her own experience.  These are fundamental issues, speaking both to our overall human condition & more specifically to our situation as members of a consumer society.  But the poet doesn’t stop there.  She also specifically examines how these issues affect her & women in general—at its core, Blameless Mouth is deeply feminist.

Ms Fox-Wilson includes retellings—“re-visions” in a sense—of several important cultural myths.  There are at least a half dozen poems that treat the creation myth & the Eden story, all from Eve’s perspective.  For instance in the poem “Eviction,” which gives a title to the first of the book’s five sections, Eve describes herself as the coolheaded one, while Adam becomes hysterical about their eviction from Eden.  We read:

Even then, as Adam cried
about the loss of home and work and God,
as angels watched us pack, I calculated

our rations, how long we’d remain sated,
how long the fruit would last.

This introduces a theme that is central to the book: the woman’s role as provider, & how that cultural role affects her consumption.  While Fox-Wilson sees the consumerist society as preying on women in terms of body image & self-esteem, she also sees a built-in self-denial faced by women that makes them refuse to satisfy their own wants.  She discusses this most eloquently in the poem “The Day I Learned the Definition of Lacuna.”  Fox-Wilson writes:

    I saw
all the women in my family
who came before me, trimming the fat
off their own meat, slipping the best parts
onto a child’s plate.

This poem & others with a similar thematic concern (especially “Better to Eat Us With,” which I’ve reproduced with Jessica Fox-Wilson’s permission as a companion post) can be read against “Womyn’s Center Topless Spaghetti Dinner,” “Maenads” & “Daughter to Mother.”  The first of these describes a wildly exuberant spaghetti dinner at a Women’s Center, & as such seems to locate a form of healthy consumption in the midst of poems of insatiable want.  “Maenads,” which immediately follows “Womyn’s Center” is a somewhat darker vision of women being free to explore their appetites.  Finally, “Daughter to Mother” is an interesting re-telling of the Persephone/Demeter myth—in this case, Persephone welcomes her Underworld incarnation because the act of consumption has also given her power.

They do not ask anything of me;
their mouths forever shut.  I sit
on my black throne, gorge
on the sight of all
the heavy, full bodies.  I absorb
every nutrient I need
from their forsaken lives.

As in the “Lacuna” poem, again we have a dialogue between mother & daughter.  This poem is preceded by a piece entitled “Things My Mother Did Not Teach Me,” which describes how the poet’s mother could deftly slice an apple.  Apples again—Eve & Snow White, who appears in the poems “Waiting for Snow White” & in the very strong piece, “Inside My Glass Coffin.”  This is again a mother-daughter dialogue in which Snow White’s entombment in the glass coffin is contrasted with the stepmother’s fixation with her mirror.  & at that rate, Snow White’s release by Prince Charming takes on a whole new meaning in Fox-Wilson’s vision:

    I was no more
a beautiful girl, captured in her prime.  I was
like her, a woman imprisoned against her will,
in her own fragile and perishable body.

Blameless Mouth is a strong & engaging collection of poetry, & not simply because of Jessica Fox-Wilson’s willingness to handle deep & compelling themes.  As illustrated by the quotes (& I could go on at length with examples), Fox-Wilson also is skilled in her handling of poetic language.  Here are two more quotes I can’t resist:

Wrap your body in thousand thread count cotton sheets
and you can be the woman, sleeping at home, wrapped
in thousand thread count cotton sheets.
                                    “Magazine Says: You’ve Worked Hard”

                      At the heart of a shipwreck
                                                is a child

staring into a hungry mouth        broken boards/splintered teeth

                          descend into black depths,
                           learn to breathe water.
                                              "At the Heart of a Shipwreck"

This is writing by a poet who has a clear conception of voice, image & rhetoric, who can convey both strong emotion & precise thought. 

I give Blameless Mouth an enthusiastic recommendation.  You can purchase the book on at this link; & don't forget to check out one of the poems from the book, "Better to Eat Us With," in the post immediately preceding this one.  You also can join me in following Jessica Fox-Wilson on her excellent blog, everything feeds process.


  1. Great review; I liked your discussion of the book's themes. Of the excerpts I especially enjoyed the ones from “The Day I Learned the Definition of Lacuna" and "At the Heart of a Shipwreck".

  2. Hi HKatz: Thanks, so glad you enjoyed it. I think "At the Heart of a Shipwreck" may be my favorite poem in the collection.

  3. I remember her from "Things My Mother..." What a fiercely visceral writer. In fact she's more a painter I'd say, with a palette of words like that. Good to see you.

  4. Hi Cathy & Caroline

    Cathy: Thanks for stopping by & glad you enjoyed this!

    Caroline: Thanks so much!

  5. I enjoyed this review, too! Very well-written. But was tickled, I guess, by the poet's take on Adam and Eve, compared to my own silly take on it...

    Unlike Fox-Wilson, no one can ever label me or my work 'deeply feminist', and not be lying. ;)

    I can't imagine Eve counting the rations. My idea, is Eve fled from the garden, downright ashamed of herself, but glad to finally be free, and to hell with how much food is left! If push comes to shove, she'll grill the snake. ;)


    I do like the part about giving the best of the meat to the child.

    And am also intrigued by the poem entitled, "Inside my Glass Coffin".


    This was me whistling. ;)

    I hope you're well, John.

  6. Hi Ginger: Well, welcome back--always fun to have you around. As far as the Eve story goes--as I said, we all have our own stories. Glad you liked the review; & yes, "Inside My Glass Coffin" is a terrific poem.


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