Book Review: Aperture by Anna Leahy
Aperture, by Anna Leahy
Shearsman Books, 2017, $14.46
Reviewed By Vivian Wagner
Anna Leahy’s new collection, Aperture, is about openings and all the many forms that they take, including eyes, camera lenses, and stories. The title, “aperture,” refers to the small opening in a camera lens that lets in light, and the book’s cover and each of its section pages feature apertures in the process of opening.
It’s also – not unrelatedly – a book about women. Most of the poems are about women, and the collection as a whole is about looking back and into the lives of women. It’s about the poet’s attempt to understand these women, to tell their stories. And it’s also about the poet’s attempt to tell her own story through the openings that these women’s stories provide.
It takes some time to get to know this book and its poems. It has several sections, and each is titled strangely and obscurely: “The Absent Mothers of The Wizard of Oz Speak Out,” “After Assassination,” “Lizzie Siddal Looks Back on Posing,” “Among Virgins and Harlots,” and “Awash.” Each section includes poems from the perspectives of various historical and mythological women.
Many of these are character poems, taking on the voices of the women they’re about. These poems give voice to the voiceless, or to those who have lost their voices. And in giving voice to these many and various women, the poet gains her own multi-faceted and sometimes contradictory voice. This volume – and the poet’s own perspective – contain multitudes.
By taking on the voice of other women, the poet explores a range of complex emotions and perspectives. These women don’t necessarily abide easily with each other, and the clashes and tensions between them and their perspectives make this volume fascinating and rich.
The poems also speak of absence. The first section about absent mothers in The Wizard of Oz gives voice to women who don’t even exist in the world of Oz as we know it. They’re absent and unspoken, and these poems call them into existence, give them space and character, form and shape. “Mrs. Tinman’s Statement to the Press,” for instance, offers a mother’s perspective on Tinman: “He was always the sort of child who played / in the rain,” the speaker of this poem says, reminiscing, as an absent mother might, about her long-gone son. And it ends with this sad, thoughtful couplet: “If he does not return, I wish him well; / each of us has our own version to tell.”
Differing versions of stories are at this collection’s heart. It’s about how a story – even about one child, one family, or one home – can look vastly different depending on who’s telling the tale. The nature of a story, after all, depends on who’s telling it, who’s looking, and who’s being looked at.
Aperture is a powerful, haunting collection that shapes our gaze as readers, even as it encourages us to turn our gaze, ultimately, on ourselves.
Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University. She’s the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.