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Fennelly cover

The subtitle of this book is 52 Micro Memoirs, which intrigued me as much as the fact that Beth Ann Fennelly is a poet.

A poet writing a memoir. As a poet writing memoir-like prosy things and calling them poems (ahem), I can relate.

Some of these micros are more poem than memoir, and some are more sentence than poem. That’s not a critique, really, because I admire the book’s efforts to take on the definition of memoir, to suggest it can be done in as little as a sentence.

Some sentences work harder than others, though: “My husband sits up after changing the van’s busted tire, grease on his forehead, and I think—though it’s been 20 years—Ash Wednesday” says a lot by itself, especially with its companion earlier in the book, “Swapped the rosary on my bedpost for Mardi Gras beads.” People have written complete book-length memoirs on leaving the Catholic Church. But “There will come a day—let it be many years from now—when our kids realize no married couple ever needed to retreat at high noon behind their locked bedroom door to discuss taxes,” while amusing in its mild sexiness, doesn’t feel as weighty to me.

Still, I love Fennelly’s conversational sass, the way she gets us to look at the (relative) weight of the everyday not by burying it in mountains of prose, but by balancing it on a pedestal of white space, as poets do. It’s a collection of stand-alones, but they also weave a longer, larger narrative of female rebellion—rebellion remembered and rebellion via the remembering and telling—alongside the blessings of a fulfilling marriage and familial love.

My favorite memoir-poem of these 52 is about giving birth, titled “What I Think About When Someone Uses ‘Pussy’ as a Synonym for ‘Weak’”:

I did not fear death. Fear was an emotion, and pain had scalded away all emotion. I chose. In order to come back with the baby, I had to tear it out at the root. Understand, I did this without the aid of my hands.

It would be easy to accuse Fennelly of being too liberal, too glib, with her “aha moments” at the end of these pieces, but isn’t she distilling (poetry!) the memoir’s telltale aha, its turning point, in each offering? It doesn’t happen just once, she shows us. Over and over, day after day, there is a moral, a metaphor, a defining moment worth calling out and crafting into a life’s emblem.

Have you read Beth Ann Fennelly’s Heating and Cooling? Want to? Share with me in the comments!


100 memoirs project

Read, posts in progress: Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side, Pam Houston’s Deep Creek, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior

On my bedside table: Jennifer Pastiloff’s On Being Human, Stephanie Land’s Maid, and Tyrese L. Coleman’s How to Sit