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148 the minnesota review the middle class? What's most ironic is that most middle-class people probably believe they are classless individuals. It seems the middle class exists so it can be unclaimed, just as the foul-mouthed have always argued that poverty exists to rise out of it. I suppose the middle class does have a soul. Yet it's hardly one to buoy anyone's conscience. THOMAS LARSON The Niobe Poems by Kate Daniels. Pittsburgh: U Pittsburgh P, 1988. pp. 60. $16.95 (cloth); $8.95 (paper). Dreams by No One's Daughter by Leslie UUman. Pittsburgh: U Pittsburgh P, 1987. pp. 56. $16.95 (cloth); $8.95 (paper). Niobe boasted that her children outshone Letos's, Apollo and Diana. When in retribution these Olympians slew all fourteen of her children, Niobe wept without comfort and without end. In The Niobe Poems, Kate Daniels' persona has lost a young son to drowning. After an interlude of pills, numbness, and polite conversation, she returns in the guise of "the New Niobe." This Niobe is neither paralyzed nor helpless. In the book's last series of poems, the following women become Niobe: Rosa Parks, an Ethiopian mother, a political nun offering herself to a martyr's flames. Beyond grief, this woman forces recognition of her story from others. In this revisionist project, Daniels's tutelary spirits include Homer, Jung, Robert BIy, and Adrienne Rich. Her work is an experiment in American cultural feminism—as chastened by Marxist critique—a reclaiming of myth that yet aims to demythologize and recognize women. The book's epigraph from Rich's "Diving into the Wreck" directs us beyond "the myth" to the woman herself ("the thing itself/and not the myth"). Unlike the emergent Niobe, the persona in Leslie Ullman's second book of poems lives suspended in a world in which someone else always has the initiative. Husbands leave. Infirm grandmothers continue to dictate one's wardrobe. Strangers in restaurants make of the persona a self located in clothing, jewelry and skin. While in Daniels's work the woman wrests recognition from the world, in UUman's the world seems to dictate what it wUl recognize in woman. A woman's skin is the dominant image in Ullman's Dreams by No One's Daughter, and uncertain self-definition is the theme. As Richard Hugo points out in his introduction to her 1979 Natural Histories, UUman quixotically proposes to build her aesthetic from this unreliable sense of self: "you could weave yourself into any location/if you stayed long enough" ("Integumentary" 47). In Dreams, the persona is pointedly a cypher, "no one's daughter"; separation, dissociation, and travel keep her selfhood in question. Unlike Daniels's book, Ullman's makes no gestures toward a feminist vision. Nonetheless, it illustrates the structural critique now firmly associated with "French feminism": that woman exists only as a construct of the dominant culture, as object and not subject. The poem "Loyalty " illustrates this tenuous subjectivity at its nadir. Negotiating a cocktail party, the persona fights disgust at the man who "lists" toward her, "not/I assure myself,/ without grace"—a man with a "roll of flesh" at his waist. In response to this unpromising man, the persona cringingly accounts for her jewelry and pockets her eyeglasses. When he tells her that his mistress is out of town, she responds by joining him in "a rough ride out of our clothes." Both of these books are the relatively long-awaited second volumes by poets whose first books were awarded prizes. Daniels's The White Wave won the 1983 Agnes Lynch Starret prize, and Ullman's Natural Histories was granted the Yale Younger Poets award by Hugo in 1979. Each poet's second work is informed by loss rather than gain; each could be read as the narrative of a beleaguered female subjectivity. But such a reading would miss the Reviews 149 difference of class that further constructs these hard- pressed women; and it would miss the poetry itself, the textual shifts and gains by which "woman" regains selfhood against all odds. To see Daniels's and Ullman's work in terms of class is to see more...


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pp. 148-151
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