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Fickle Muses an online journal of myth and legend

Becoming the Villainess book cover

“Becoming the Villainess” is available online from Steel Toe Books, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For more information about Jeannine Hall Gailey, visit her poetry website.

Review of Jeannine Hall Gailey's "Becoming the Villainess"

by Sari Krosinsky

I was reading the American Poetry Journal over a cup of coffee when I came across Jeannine Hall Gailey for the first time. “The Conversation” caught my attention from its opening line: “I am an avenging goddess, she said, severely.”

I loved the contrast between the avenging goddess’ blustering evasion of present emotion, “I eat men like you for breakfast,” and her lover’s persistence in avoiding the inevitable by turning everything to the moment’s pleasure, “I could make you French toast instead.” Gailey’s wit makes the loss of parting at once more bearable and more poignant.

It is a rare thing to find a poem that makes me laugh while evoking serious emotion, but not rare in “Becoming the Villainess” (Steel Toe Books, 2006), with many poems characterized by a sorrowing playfulness reminiscent of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”

In her debut poetry collection, Gailey recreates myths from Persephone to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, examining the victim/villain casting of mythic women with wit, grace and insight.

She writes with the lyric beauty of poems meant to be heard, like the alliteration of these lines from “Procne and Philomel, at the End”:

“a nest of trinkets grew
around my son’s tiny grave,
a blue blanket, pink peonies
with blooms curling like infant feet.”

“Becoming the Villainess” gives a different twist to the old tale of the reclaimed mythic woman. What makes its heroines empowering is not that they overcome their obstacles—they often don’t—but that as much as they lose, they don’t lose themselves. In “Persephone and the Prince Meet Over Drinks,” Persephone expresses the power of owning our own choices, wherever they may lead:

“And so what if, at the end of this story,
with a ring on my finger and a castle
to boot, you find out that my prince
is prince of nothing but darkness?
I knew what I was doing.
I was prepared for a long dance with death.”

With her blend of colloquial and lyric language, of pop culture and ancient tradition, Gailey not only renews myth for the modern reader, but illuminates our strengths and vulnerabilities through the lens of myth.

Read selections from “Becoming the Villainess”