BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Fox Frazier-Foley is one of my favorite poets in the literature community. Her new poetry chapbook Like Ash in the Air After Something Has Burned just came out from Hyacinth Girl Press. The poems each take on their own persona: the persona of a now-dead female saint, giving a voice to women who were largely voiceless - or were given a story by others around them, and in a way, their own sense of agency and life outside of their legends.
The collection couldn't have come out at a better time, considering the political climate surrounding women, where women can't be complicated and complex humans, but saintlike beings that are pure and innocent. Women, then and now, are often relegated to roles submissive to men - and in Frazier-Foley's collection, this is not the case. These women are strong, they don't follow the rules, and they make their own sacrifices because they want to:
In the above excerpt, St. Theodora takes ownership of her body, stating she could die like a man, and repent like one too, implying that sainthood, and martyrdom, was something largely men were "allowed" to do. In this way, it's so feminist and subversive, that even in death, Theodora wanted agency. What does owning your own death mean? This is something I can't stop thinking about after reading this poem. As someone interested in the agency of the other, of women and those who are marginalized, I couldn't help but feel this collection deeply, especially as someone who went to Catholic school for 14 years, and whose study of these saints has been limited by their martyrdom.
Then, in "St. Pelagia Was a Famous Dancer and Courtesan Who Converted to Christianity, Disguised Herself as a Man, and Made Pilgrimage to the Mount of Olives, Where She Died After Three Years of What is Generally Characterized as Strict Penance, But Which She Determined to be a Period of Self-Purification and Solitude," she takes on a man's appearance, knowing this was "sin itself":
I was sin itself, laughing in spite. Delight. Kicking
bare feet brushed with bergamot oil, bathed in rose water,
tossing tousled, glossy hair. My body bearing precious
stones & gilded cloth as the donkey bore my baubhle weight
unlike any other fancy whore
This collection illustrates the pain of being a woman in a man's world, in a world where womanhood is seen as a lesser other - and how owning womanhood is a sacrifice in its own way. The saints in this collection were killed and silenced, in similar ways that witches were, but on the opposite spectrum, so to speak. The collection makes us question what their sacrifices mean, what our sacrifices as women and LGBTQ people are - and what it is to burn. And is it worth it to burn?
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of Joanna's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.