Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jane-in-the-Box - A review

Our thanks to Rita María Martínez who generously sent us a copy of this chapbook.

Jane-in-the-Box
Rita María Martínez
Robert Bixby, editor and illustrator

March Street Press
ISBN 1-59661-084-0

Poetical reactions to the works of the Brontë sisters are not so frequent as other artistic expressions but can be traced all the same. Since the pioneer Haworth Churchyard by Matthew Arnold in 1855(1) until the very personal, but isolated, compositions of Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes, passing through more ambitious works like Anne Carson's The Glass Essay, to name just a few names and pieces.

This little book by Rita María Martínez is not so ambitious, it can be read as a the author's personal response to her reading of Jane Eyre, heavily influenced by the feminist readings à la Gilbert & Gubar(2). As a matter of fact, taking into account the many apppearances of Bertha Mason in the poems one wonders if Bertha-in-the-Box could be a more exact definition of this chapbook.

The poems can be grouped into several categories, not cut and dry but permeable between them. A first group of poems is related to the personal, physical in the sense of physicality, act of reading or the experiences directly connected to it: Reading Jane Eyre I & II (the second one particularly provides a hypnotical experience of actually being there sharing the reading with the author), At the British Museum(3), The Jane & Bertha in Me or Thinking of Bertha on the Metro.

A second group of poems is concerned with Bertha's character. Although not directly mentioned, the spirit of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea breathes in poems like the triptych Bertha Vintage. This madwoman in the attic revisit is transparent in the aforementioned poems to which we may add Letter to Bertha.

Another collection of poems can be described as poetical retellings of different given episodes of Jane Eyre, with many references extracted from the contemporary American cultural context (from Macy's to Chanel or Mary Kay crèmes). Here we can find poems of extraordinary richness of detail and unashamed intertextuality like the Mortification Triptych, Jane addresses Edward, Fashion remedy, St John pops the question or the Rochester Triptych (the only ones where Rochester is allowed to speak his mind(4).

The chapbook ends with a poem, The appropriation of Jane, that serves as an excellent coda to the the whole work. Using references to her own Cuban origins, the author describes the fascination which Jane Eyre has on her. The best way to end this brief review of this charming little book of poems is quoting from a paragraph from this last poem:
this poem is about the quintaessential
Plain Jane: Jane Eyre, who graciously helps

birth poems stubborn as kidney stones,
mischievous poems that hopscotch

across the page because I've ripped
off Charlotte Brontë heroine,
Notes
(1) Matthew Arnold, Haworth Churchyard, Fraser's Magazine, May 1855.
(2) There's even a poem, Cross-Dressing, directly inspired by the reading of Sandra M. Gilbert & Susan Gubar's The Madwomen in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination.
(3) At the British Library should be a more up to date title.
(4) A different case is Jane Eyre: Heiress, Avon Lady, Plastic Surgery Junkie where a too deformed and somehow gratuitous kind of Jane Eyre appears which, in our opinion, has nothing to do with the Jane described by Charlotte Brontë in the novel.


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