Title: With Paper for Feet
Author: Jennifer A. McGowan
Length: 96 pages
Published by: Arachne Press
Pub date: Feb 23, 2017
Source: A digital copy was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
My Rating: ★★★☆☆
The short version: If you enjoy poetic re-imaginings of folklore, Shakespeare, and religion, I would recommend this book.
The long version: Jennifer McGowan’s With Paper for Feet challenges the way we have viewed people, specifically women, in our stories, religion, and history. Broken up into five sections, this book deals with women in folklore, Greek mythology, Shakesperean plays, history, and Christianity. In short, this was a book that I really, really wanted to love.
Instead, I didn’t really know how to rate this book. It was difficult for me to read it all the way through to the end, but not because of poor writing.
The poems in this collection are actually pretty well-written; there is a lot of musicality within each line, so that the poems themselves are easy to read and enjoyable. I appreciated the way the sections were broken up by context; a section for folklore, one for Shakespeare, one for religion, etc. I think, more than anything else, I loved the feminine re-imaginings of traditionally male perspectives; the re-writings of Helen of Troy and Lady Macbeth were among my favorites.
That being said, I had a difficult time finishing the whole book. You could probably say my biggest issue stemmed from myself: I didn’t know where about a third of the references came from. I would have a rough idea of, “Yeah, this is Shakespeare,” or “I’m pretty sure this has something to do with Greek mythology,” but there were so many times when I had to stop reading so I could look up who I was even reading about, it took a lot of the fun out of it for me. There were so many that I had to look up that I finally just gave up and hoped for the best without the context. Which is unfortunate, because, with a lot of the poems, they lose a lot of significance if you don’t understand their context. I would have loved to see some epigraphs or something with some of the poems just to help situate the reader with the speaker. Make it possible for me to still enjoy the poem, and then sate my curiosity later.
A perfect place for context would have been at the division between the sections, which, at the risk of sounding petty, is one place I was hoping for more creativity. Instead of just “With Paper for Feet: Section Three,” I was expecting something like “Section Three: With Ink for Ears” (I’m bad at this, I know) or anything other than a robotic “Section Three” to signal we were changing perspectives, and to help situate us in that new perspective.
Long story short, this book is full of some great poems! It didn’t work well for me, but if you know a lot of literary women (or are willing to put in the time to do some research), I would definitely recommend this book.