A Review of The Body’s Alphabet
BOOK REVIEW: By Trish Hopkinson (from Literary Mama)
The poetry of presents the complexity of relationships between mothers and their children from multiple perspectives—from the viewpoint of a child tormented by her hoarding mother, to a mother’s experiences with birth, breastfeeding, marriage, and sexual orientation. The poems appear to be chronological, introducing the poems’ speaker with memories of her childhood then gradually moving into phases of her adulthood, each conflict nesting within the next to build a personal history.
This collection is the first full-length book of poems by Ann Tweedy, an active poet and essayist, as well as a law professor and practicing attorney. In addition, she has two published chapbooks and her poetry has appeared in many literary magazines and journals, including Literary Mama, Clackamas Literary Review, Rattle, damselfly press, Lavender Review, and Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly.
The first of five sections introduces the speaker via her childhood memories of a deteriorating home and a deteriorating mother—a hoarder who leaves no room for her daughter physically or mentally—one who leaves her daughter fractured, a daughter who has inherited a perpetual chain of difficult mother-daughter relationships. In the third poem entitled “fracture,” the speaker addresses her mother directly and presents a story of longing that spans generations in a few clear lines:
. . . even your mother, who cried
on the corner when she learned
she was pregnant with you your sister
consoling her where do I go from here?
the brother who molested you whose side
your mother took in arguments . . .
The last lines of the poem continue by describing the speaker as “the selfish only child” who asks herself, if she could miraculously escape the bloodlines, the archetype of the women who came before her, what would then be left of her mother?
BOOK REVIEW: Drizzle Review
Local Forecast: The Body’s Alphabet by Ann Tweedy
By Rebecca Valley
Ann Tweedy’s collection The Body’s Alphabet is a book of in-betweens – in-between homes, in-between loves, in-between sexualities. It is a book about motherhood and memory, and the space we keep for our childhood long after we have grown up around it. Though Tweedy begins The Body’s Alphabet with the lines “I tread through / the world mindful that upsets / follow unguarded movement” (1), over the course of the collection she finds strength in those quiet and delicate moments, and in doing so steps out from her own carefully crafted betweenness to affirm her presence in the work.
Even Tweedy’s headings live in a world in-between. Each section is prefaced by names like “thresholds,” “between planets,” and “dirt-blurred,” so that by the time I dove into these poems I could already feel the narrator standing in the doorway between two rooms, watching quietly while the world unfolded around her. You feel her as a spectator in the poem “Small Town Vignettes” where she writes about her mother getting arrested on the steps of her church, and then later reflects on “the insinuating dss woman” who says:
never answered the door
but we could hear footsteps inside and I wondered how
that was a crime but in her language –
in front of a judge –
it meant hiding something hiding something (19)
There is a bond and a distance between mother and daughter throughout these poems. Tweedy is often the quiet spectator of her mother’s pain and suffering, but they are attached by blood, by understanding, and by the way that both of them are hiding – the mother from the world outside, the daughter from anything that causes too much of a stir. In this way, you feel the narrator stuck between her mother’s world and her own, and the way she navigates adulthood while reliving and remembering childhood. This is complicated further when the narrator becomes a mother herself, writing about the experience: “to some, I’m all body / exactly what I never wanted to be.” (25)
This book flips between the past and the present, childhood and adulthood – Tweedy is always moving forward with her head turned back, catching in peripheral flashes the memories of her childhood home. The most striking moment in this collection for me was the return of an image of roses – early in the collection in her poem “Pale Pink,” Tweedy describes the untrimmed flowers of her childhood home:
only the roses in their ballet splendor
seemed out of place among that chaotic, undernourished flora.
They grew for a few feet
along rotting poles and rails. Nobody did anything
for them. (8)
Later, in a moment of stunning continuity, Tweedy writes in “life without descartes:”
if you could rejoice in the unruly
fusion of fat, muscle, and bone
every day those water-gorged roses
shine out of the skin and the eyes (42)
This moment, in which the roses from childhood return as proof of an affirmation of the body, is exactly the strength that makes Tweedy’s book so stunning, and so unique. From the weak and untouched roses of a driveway garden bed come the “water-gorged” roses of adulthood – fuller, stronger, more present.