Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Jeannine Hall Gailey‘s Becoming the Villainess is a unique volume of poetry housing poems steeped in Greek mythology, comic book characters, and more.

Gailey’s images are crisp and immediate with recurring uses of pomegranates, wolves, and other items. Alice in Wonderland, Wonder Woman, Persephone, and many more make appearances in Becoming the Villainess, which is separated into five parts. At the end of the book, Gailey includes brief descriptions of the myths inspiring the poems enclosed within its pages.

From “Female Comic Book Superheroes” (Page 5)

Impossible chests burst out of tight leather jackets,
from which they extract the hidden scroll, antidote, or dagger,
tousled hair covering one eye.

They return to their day jobs as forensic pathologists,
wearing their hair up and donning dainty glasses.
Of all the goddesses, these pneumatic heroines most

resemble Artemis, with her miniskirts and crossbow,
or Freya, with her giant gray cats.
Each has seen this apocalypse before.

Each section in Becoming the Villainess examines the evolution of female characters from innocent girls to darker, vengeful women, but these characters are deeper than stereotypical comic book characters, mothers, and goddesses. While some of these poems have a lighter, tongue-in-cheek quality to them, some of them drive home the deep dark horrors found in many legends, myths, and real-life events. One particularly jarring poem in the collection is “Remembering Philomel,” in which a professor is asking for grittier details of the narrator’s sexual assault.

Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a wonderfully insightful collection that looks beneath the surface of myths and sexy comic book characters to find their motivation, their desires, and spunk. If this is your kind of poetry, you should pick it up. I count this among the best of contemporary poetry that I’ve read this year. If you missed my interview with Jeannine Hall Gailey, go check it out.

About the Poet:

Jeannine Hall Gailey was born at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. in English from the University of Cincinnati, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Pacific University.

Her first book of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, was published by Steel Toe Books in 2006. Poems from the book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She recently taught with the Young Artist Project at Centrum. In 2007 she received a Washington State Artist Trust GAP Grant and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review, writes book reviews, and teaches at National University’s MFA Program.

Her inspirations often come from mythological sources, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses or The Tales of Genji, folk and fairy tale collections, and of course, comic books.

This is my second book for the poetry review challenge.