This is actually the third piece of writing about a book I’ve engaged with in the last 24 hours, but the other two have been proper serious grown up reviews for proper serious grown up magazines. I won’t name them here in case either magazine rejects my review OR whoever you are, dear reader, doesn’t see said magazines as serious, grown up or proper, but rest assured: I wrote about books in a way that was focused on books, not on how I was when I read them.
I’m having a stressful, weird, April, mostly spent doing major decluttering as I properly, finally, begin to fulfil my most-of-a-decade-long dream of leaving the UK. My Brexodus, if you will. In addition to that, I’ve received some troubling abuse (link to a Huff Post article on that), I’ve done a professional nude photoshoot, I’ve done some work for money, I’ve been trying to help some people who need help but don’t want it, I’ve been doing more top romance, I’ve been taking my dog for like so many amazing walks and I’ve been trying to decide how I am actually going to live. It’s fun, but it’s hard. It’s important and it feels right. I’m learning – as I said in a WhatsApp message earlier – how to get and do the things I want, rather than doing the things people tell me to do or I feel I am expected to do. It’s strange, trying to get things you actively want when you’ve never really tried to before, but, meh, I think I’m growing to like it.
Another thing I am newly comfortable in liking is poetry. So, that’s right, readers, let’s get me “back on my bullshit” with some thoughts, some comments and some inexpert opinions on the highly-acclaimed BRAND NEW debut poetry collection from Edinburgh-based poet Sophie Collins, Who Is Mary Sue?
When I went out buying poetry about six weeks ago, I couldn’t find one of the many books I desperately wanted. It was the book I have now read.
I enjoyed the Hera Lindsay Bird I bought SO MUCH that I decided to treat myself to the other book of poetry I’d been desperate that day to find, so I did the naughtiest thing anyone who cares about literature can ever do and ordered it from Art’s – and The Worker’s – greatest enemy, Amazon. On the increasingly rare occasions when I commit that sin, I do feel regret, and I know that I’m right to do so. Amazon is bad news, and its convenience and its ease of use is no defence for using it. Many things are easy, but we know, as humans, that most of those easy things are categorically wrong. Not everything easy is wrong, some things that are very easy are incredibly RIGHT, but using Amazon is not one of them. We make ourselves – whoever, whatever, we are – more pointless, useless and replaceable every single time we use that site. To ignore my guilt, if what follows makes you want to purchase a copy of Who Is Mary Sue?, then do what I should have done and pick it up from a brick ‘n’ mortar bookstore or direct from Faber & Faber via this cheeky link.
Like literally six days have gone by since I first started typing this, which isn’t at all fair to Sophie Collins and this excellent book, as I’m hugely enthusiastic about it and think it’s brilliant. I’ve been working a lot and trying to do too many things, getting my life in order, like. All good now, though, all is very very very smooooooth. But this will be short, because I’ve just gotta get on with my fkn life, OK?????
The poetry and prose included in Who Is Mary Sue? offers an impressive introduction to the wide scope of Collins work, because while there are poetic prose pieces that have a narrative, though dreamlike thrust (such as ‘The Engine’) and poetry of quite a traditional describing-a-thing-in-an-interesting-way kinda vibe (such as ‘Healers’), there are also many pieces of great originality included in this book, pieces that truly offer a complex and contemporary exploration of important issues. For me, the real highlight of the book was the title piece, which is a collage-like poetic essay comprised of original prose, blank spaces, verse and quotation, all of which combine to effectively explore the nature of critical responses to female writing.
‘Mary Sue’ is a term used in fan fiction to dismiss female characters who are deemed to be unsubtle authorial avatars, and the essay goes on from this to discuss how, traditionally, female writers have always been accused of the production of autobiography if their writing is excellent, and of being “domestic” if their writing deals with lived female experience. Using quotations and examples from the lives of some of the greatest writers currently writing, Collins explores how critically-lauded, professional female writers of hugely disparate styles and focuses are treated with the same contempt as the casual, recreational, writers of online fan fiction: their efforts dismissed as only powerful when unimaginative, and their lives as presumably exact mirrors of what is on the page. In a quotation, Sharon Olds describes “confessional” poetry as “apparently personal poetry […] because how do we really know?” Using language and space sparingly, as well as the words of other people, Collins presents a firm and important argument.
There are prose pieces in here that sing with beauty and emotion, including ‘As bread is the body of Christ so is glass the very flesh of the Devil’ and there is a gorgeous poem called ‘Ed’ that has the majority of its content as a prose footnote. Collins plays with forms of language, with expectations of poetic form and she offers a complex and engaging manner of expression. There are great poems about gender, about travel, about writing, about relationships, about all sorts of things. I loved loved loved loved loved the titular piece, though, and will definitely dive into the previous works of Collins in the pursuit of this style of writing, the collage-like poetic essay. She does it excellently, and I’m not certain I’ve encountered it elsewhere.
Who Is Mary Sue? is an engaging debut collection and shows a variety of skill within Collins. There is some traditional poetry in here, but alongside some of the freshest stylistic choices I have seen in a while. Well worth a read!
This is undeservedly short.
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