Muse. Dawn Marie Kresan. Tightrope Books. Barrie, Ontario. 2013.
Dawn Marie Kresan starts her collection Muse by offering us a brief biographical sketch of Elizabeth Siddal — and then Siddal becomes the central character in Kresan's opus.
Siddal was a somewhat famous model and muse for her husband, the painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and in these poems she is resurrected to be a muse once again. This time as the feminist heroine for Kresan's most eloquent treatise on love and loss and all the other emotional crevasses we navigate.
All that and some very spiffy poems.
Fanny Cornforth: A Bacchante
Just a model, he tells you, but you know better.
You too were once his model. You agreed
to sit for him with a chaperone present.
But this woman goes to the studio alone,
makes easy company with men. She stands too close,
laughs stoutly at their jokes,
clutching a hand just above her breasts,
as if to draw attention to the dip of cleavage.
Who is this woman who is nothing
like you? face large and round, she cracks
walnuts between her teeth, spits out
the hard shells. Accepts her payment in beer.
Kresan doesn't limit the party to Pre-Raphaelite's like her husband and his crew, no, this discussion is opened up to a stove-weary Sylvia Plath and the ever loquacious Marilyn Monroe. Kresan is dead serious in her playfulness.
Lizzie and Sylvia Plath Reading Obituaries
They pause and languish over Mother, beloved wife.
Sighing deeply, their chests rise and fall in unison.
How do you think we will be remembered? Lizzie asks.
By what they saw, answers Sylvia.
Image is everything in death, like art.
Lizzie sits at her dressing table, looks in a mirror,
curls blazing around her neck. Contemplates
two sides of the same coin—that golden hair
undimmed in death.
She remains silent, watches Sylvia stand up, stretch
and walk away, unaware of the way her softly rounded
hips sway from side to side. Lizzie thinks of her own
narrow hips, the dead child emerging. Remembers
Her own last hours, vomiting blood,
a tube pushed down her thin throat. What Art
out of this?
Princess Diana, Anne Sexton and a score of other strong, dead, women of legend and passion pop up as Kresan hop-scotches her way through the culture of women and men, muse and mis-used.
Kresan provides numerous and quite useful notes (something I generally highly disapprove of - but in this case it works and it is helpful) as well as a bibliography of source materials. And that may lead you to think that these works, this book, is academic in nature. It's not.
The life of Elizabeth Siddal is re-imagined and given a new vocabulary by Dawn Marie Kresan. Siddal is a muse and vehicle for Kresan. The engaging conversation Kresan creates out of the mouths of these many female icons is as amusing as it is intelligent.
The Lady of Shalott, William Holman Hunt, 1857 and
The Lady of Shalott, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1857.
The death of a beautiful woman is, without question,
the most poetic of all topics, at least according to Poe.
Hunt and Rossetti seem to agree. Across the pond, they argue
over who illustrates what: the moment the curse takes possession
or the moment the corpse cruises down to Camelot.
Both want the dead woman, but Hunt acquiesces.
A moment of transgression and sexual surrender
is still doable. Cracked mirrors and curses can be fun.
Hunt a stern moralist in sexual matters, at least
when it comes to how women behave.
The lady's hair is disheveled, her arms bare.
Tapestry threads bind her feet,
as if to punish her for daring to leave.
Certainly she is culpable, he thinks.
Rossetti, for his part, focuses on the wonderment felt
at a dead woman beautifully boat-floating.
Her face turned, surrendering to the viewer's gaze.
Her body stuffed into a corner,
her feet cut off by the frame's edge.
What is it with these guys and feet?
Kresan references any number of paintings throughout this book and although it isn't necessary it is certainly instructive to look up the paintings she references. For the most part these are art works you have seen before - but Kresan has reimagined them and the women that inhabit them. Smart stuff indeed.
Tree Reading Series Featured Reader - Dawn Kresan