“November Butterfly” by Tania Pryputniewicz
Saddle Road Press, November 2014
Tania Pryputniewicz’s first full length collection of poems, “November Butterfly”, debuts this November from Saddle Road Press and is a tumultuous journey of trauma and motherhood. The book is a collection of narrative lyric poems in three sections that vacillate between high lyric while employing a multitude of female personas. James Joyce once wrote that lyrical poetry is “the form wherein the artist presents his image in immediate relation to himself” and Pryputniewicz’s persona poems are exemplary of this. She experiments with voice through the motif of the female experience and the effect is a feminist reimagining and projection. Characters like Sylvia Plath, Lady Di and Ophelia become mythological archetypes via Pryputniewicz’s deft rendering.
However, it is the Guinevere poems in the second section that are the standouts in the collection. Pryputniewicz uses lyrical persona to write of Guinevere’s abduction and rape and then breaks from the persona pieces to write about her own rape as a teenager in the poem “Guinevere Braves High Noon in My Backyard”. The poem begins with her son kicking a soccer ball that beheads a stone angel statue in the backyard and evolves into a conversation about grieving through art:
She—I mean Guinevere—neither sanguine
nor sisterly, blurts, with evident
satisfaction, You can’t write your way
home—as in Let go, take ball back to son,
follow him outside fence.
The engine of the poem seems to find its power not only from the break in persona voice, but from breaking the fourth wall and extending the poem into a meta space with clipped language. Metaphor features heavily for bodily violations. Pryputniewicz ‘s reckonings often occur through the miasma of motherhood, especially when pregnancy and labor become triggering states of being, like in the poem “Absolute Power.” Pryputniewicz writes, “…blood, the acned face of a stranger re-clasping/his belt, the things I told myself to calm/down at fourteen. How dare the old trespass/trespass now, unable like other good mothers…” The poems in the second and third section move in and out of physical space as the poet continues to turn Joyce’s mirror to reflect the language, and not just the image.
Other motifs of language emerge through repetition of concrete images: milkweed, rinds, dandelions. Pryputniewicz creates memorable imagery in her more dramatic lyric poems, like “mist garneting a spider’s web” and she often employs empathy in order to inhabit and explore the persona pieces, as well as meter. The poem “The Chanter’s Daughter” is a fine example of consonance and repetition being used to create the lyric’s metrics:
She is shrill, a blue-bell, a bar, a hill,
a shell, a walrus on a hot rock bark barking. Eyes
of the forest embedded in planks plank her in a room: watch, watch
listening. She sings and soldiers come,
words you can’t spell, the short ditch, a smell by the house, sudden tap
and shatter of breaking glass.
By breaking up the consonance with the enjambment of “eyes”, the repetition, and then moving into alliteration, Pryputniewicz crafts high lyric in these tercets. Attention is paid to form which helps create a cohesive collection of poems. Even the quatrains in the following poem “Thumbelina” are brief and create smallness visually that is fitting to the title.
“November Butterfly” is an often surprising process of recovery that finds empowerment and strength through the field of mothering, and healing through the act of creating – a commendable and memorable debut.