BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Margaret Bashaar is the real deal. She's a dedicated and brilliant poet, feminist, and social justice activist. Her latest collection "Some Other Stupid Fruit" was just published by Agape Editions (2016), and it is a ripe, conversational chapbook that explores gender presentation and performance, particularly for female-bodied humans. It's kind of a mean girls chapbook in the best of ways.
The collection starts of with the idea of the narrator being a thief, as the first poem "I Am a Thief" chronicles the speaker taking a spoon and a baby away from someone else. This display of both maternal ownership over the baby, spoon, man, and dog at once reverses the typical power dynamic that women and men face, but it also constructs a world where intimacy isn't gradually grown, but taken, where there divide between the real self and performed self is put on display.
Then, the next poem, "The Seduction of Snakes," pulls us further into this bizarre, ultra-callous landscape where the speaker claims every woman has "a snake inside her" that is "twisting beneath the skin at her temple,/ouroborosing through the ventricles of her heart." I love this image, so violent in nature, because it paints a gruesome picture of a reversed motherhood, thus illustrating the real portrait of what being able to create life truly entails. Bashaar's chapbook paints a portrait of the female body as not just something "soft and frail and sweet" but acknowledging that there is a "violence in all of us," a side is nuanced and full of venom.
What I love most about this collection is how conversational and relatable it is—Bashaar uses ordinary events and everyday musings to bring us into this world using the creation story and the iconic figure of Eve as a trope—as opposed to creating a dream world that we can't truly understand or grasp. The struggle between power and submission, insecurity and a cutting ego, is intriguing. For instance, in "Thinking for Yourself Is a Lost Art and Good Riddance," she writes:
"I will tell you what color nail polish to wear,
which moisturizer is best beneath your eyes
and you will learn to paint your own French tips.
Remember the important things: pitch your center
of gravity forward in heels, do not skip leg day.
Clench your jaw until color bursts behind your eyes,
until you feel heat below your ear like a bleed."
The fearless speaker is godlike in this instance, using the performance of putting on makeup and adorning the body to control one's sexuality, dominance, and perceived place in their world, because this is often what women and female-bodied people are taught to do by the media as a whole. To use your body to control those around you, and yourself.
Instead of writing this chapbook in the third person to explore this perspective, and to offer a subjective criticism of our current culture, I love that Bashaar does the opposite. She uses the flawed first person approach to illustrate how easy it is to fall into this type of insecure-fueled thinking, and illustrates how "mean girls" are made. Really, whose fault is that? And how do we change this?
All in all, the collection aptly ends with the poem "There Really Is No Such Thing as Winning," which is a perfect end for such a collection. The last two words are "your cunt," which manifests the idea of female power and sexuality—and being at once owned by one's desires and gender, while also yearning to reject those constraints.
Margaret Bashaar’s first book of poetry, Stationed Near the Gateway, was released by Sundress Publications in early 2015. She has chapbooks from Grey Book Press, Blood Pudding Press, and Tilt Press and her poetry has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, including New South, Caketrain, The Southeast Review, Copper Nickel, and Menacing Hedge, among others. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where she edits Hyacinth Girl Press and encourages art anarchy.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Feminist Wire, BUST, Pouch, and elsewhere. She also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets.