Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hooked

People's interior lives are quite fascinating. Some people are quite different in their private worlds than the persons they project might lead you to believe; conversely, there are some people for whom you wish this was the case, only to discover that they are as ugly inside as out. In Hooked, Carolyn Smart challenges your perception of inner and outer lives by placing you inside the heads of seven real women and giving you a taste of who they were and what made them so.

When I think of Smart's body of work, I always think about her confessional poems. She writes with an impressive honesty about situations and emotions that are hard to quantify in words. In each of the seven poems in Hooked, Smart takes on the persona of the woman she writes about and, demonstrating an incredible ability to distill research, gives each of them a wholly unique voice.

What brings me back to the book again and again is the sense that I am experiencing seven entirely different lives, none of which I actually desire to experience in real life. All of these women are consumed (or hooked, if you will) by a passion that eventually brings about the demise of their body or soul.

And as awful as it sounds, not all of these women are people you particularly want to save - even if they are fascinating. Take Myra Hindley (the UK's Karla Homolka) or Unity Mitford (an English devotee to Hitler and his cause), for example. The voices Smart evokes when she embodies these women is perhaps most striking because where you judge them, she does not. Rather, she lets them tell you about their motives and sadnesses, making you almost complicit in the horror of their lives.

But not all the women Smart chose to focus on are so awful. "Rickety Rackety," written about Zelda Fitzgerald (F. Scott's wife) is quite sad, although the language is beautiful in its cadence and the images it strikes in your mind: vivid at the centre and blurring slightly around the edges.

In our society there is a tendency to type-cast people - men and women alike - so they become known as one thing forever. In Hooked, Smart goes beyond the roles these women filled and explores their inner lives, in a way explaining how they became to be known as they were. Her poems, written in sections, piece together the times and places and people that frame the women she chose to write about, and the picture that forms is one of passion and compulsion. For all the things that these women may have done or not done, let there be no mistake about it: Each one of them lived, and lived a life worth reading about.

Hooked
by Carolyn Smart
Published in 2009 by Brick Books (cover image shown from that edition)

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