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Reviewed by:
  • Resistance Fantasies, and: Horses and the Human Soul, and: Dog Angel
  • Christine Stewart-Nuñez (bio)
Diane Thiel, Resistance Fantasies, Story Line Press
Judith Barrington, Horses and the Human Soul, Story Line Press
Jesse Lee Kercheval, Dog Angel, University of Pittsburgh Press

Graceful, intelligent, accessible, the poems in Resistance Fantasies move across centuries – stopping in on Catherine the Great in the 1700s, Greek women in 1803, and a family in Odessa in 1943, just to name a few – and geographies, including Russia, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Miami Beach. They explore myth and personal story, legends and contemporary public issues. They allude to or speak many tongues: Greek, German, and Spanish among them. Yet as diverse as this collection is, the poems in Resistance Fantasies resonate thematically with struggles that in many cases manifest as resistance to conventional ways of thinking and being. This rich content combined with Thiel's skillful use of form makes Resistance Fantasies a strong collection.

In the opening poem, "Black Sea Acrostic," the first letters of each line spell out "Potemkin Village," suggesting appearance is not reality and illusions have consequences. Indeed, in most of this section's poems, Thiel portrays women who resist appearances or conventions, especially the ways myths typically construct them. In doing so, Thiel joins Eavan Boland, Alicia Ostriker, Rita Dove, and many other contemporary poets in retelling myths from modern (often feminist) perspectives. The speakers, whether they have modern voices or become mythological personas, reclaim and/or invent aspects of their stories that resonate with contemporary readers. For the speaker of "Daphne (A Photograph, 1930)" it is her flight from Apollo:

I know, in that moment caught, how she was fleeing – her face eternally still, her body taut, training every tendril of her being, holding her in place – the raised knot of her face eternally still, her body taught by years of silence, that straight upper lip holding her in place – the raised knot of an old laurel tree, the tightening grip . . .

(1–8). [End Page 188]

Daphne's attempt to resist Apollo reflects the speaker's own struggle, and while the details may be elusive, we know it entailed years of silence, a past haunting the present, and the need to be free. By focusing on this nearly universal conflict, Thiel makes the poem personal. Yet she does this not only through the content of the piece, but the form as well. Thiel chose the pantoum, at once weaving the two women's stories together and reflecting the repetitive nature of our struggles with the past.

Often Thiel invokes the context of the myth, but departs from the conventional narratives by writing or rewriting details. In "Medea in Colchis" readers see a modern Medea – an omniscient Medea – who defends her choice to kill her sons with the control of Sylvia Plath: "to tuck everything in place // before you go to the bottom" (12–13). This Medea gives readers a sense of her inner life. She refuses the criticism applied to her and compels readers to identify with her: "I am the darkness that lives inside // every one of you . . ." (36–37). And this is where Thiel makes ancient myth so necessary for our contemporary consideration; indeed, she asks "Do I remind you how hard it is to create, // how easy to destroy?" (45–46).

Mythological women are not the only ones whose stories of resistance are told. Legends, songs, and historical figures play a part too. In "Catacombs (Under Odessa, 1943)" a baby is born with "her hand in a fierce, tiny fist / declaring her will to exist" (13–14). "Sevenlings for Akhmatova" (a two-part poem with seven lines in each) references the resistance of the Russian poet:

It comes in threes – the red letter, the midnight warning in disguise, the knock that shakes the shutters.


. . . When they took him away, they emptied the drawers of his poetry. But I carried his words always on me, smuggled volumes out – by memory.


Anna Akhmatova's work was popular in Russia but unofficially banned, and her family members and associates were often jailed; some were executed. Keeping the silenced poetry was for her, then, an act...


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pp. 188-199
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