Skeen (English/Michigan State) writes poetry with an academic edge: Allusion and trope are her dominant motifs, and she understands the literary power of the elegy. Sexual personae, however, seem more important to her than do literary identities, and much of the volume is organized around gender themes—of female alienation, mainly—that have a very dated 1970s feel to them. In many of the poems (—Short Story," for example), there's an unspoken equating of literary narration with personal emancipation, a linkage that diminishes writing simply to a means of raising one's consciousness. Even the best sequences—the interior narratives of "The Inner City of Dreams——are harnessed to an annoyingly au courant sociology of verse, the collection's primary concern of "telling our stories" overriding any consideration of what point or value the stories may have. This strategy becomes most evident when the poet assumes the voices of historical figures in her work, offering us Eve's perspective on Original Sin (—Eve, Eating Bananas, Sets the Record Straight—) or Emily Dickinson's peculiarly contemporary take on her own career (—Emily Reveals the Secret of Her Success—). Whatever the merits of Skeen's vision on such matters, her attempts to manipulate her audience will strike many as oppressive, and some as suffocating.
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