Review: Apocryphal by Lisa Marie Basile



Apocryphal, Lisa Marie Basile’s first full length book of poetry, opens with an epigraph from Anais Nin’s shory story, “Mathilde” – a story that interrogates sex, violence, exoticism, and eroticism. A story in which a woman thinks she’s safe in the arms of men but at the end is shown how her “little wound” compels men to wound her further. Like “Mathilde,” Lisa Marie’s collection interrogates desire, sex, violence, love, experience, &c; unlike Mathilde, however, Lisa Marie Basile’s speaker knows she is not safe in the arms of men. She knows how patriarchal constructions of femininity can constrain and threaten her: “… they pull me apart like petals,/ and put their wishes inside me to hatch.”

This is a book that is true but not true. This is a poetry that tells us these true-ish things by showing how the world is full of stories and these stories are of women and these stories are with apples and these stories come with wounds. There are women and the speaker comes from/is one of these women: “I was born bad because she was born for pain. this is a/ portrait of bad girls.” This speaker is a “bad girl” because she comes from a woman and will be a woman and women are, in the stories that inform patriarchal wishes, reified as body always. There is a garden and there are grails. So many grails. In the patriarchal logic that this book exposes and confounds, women are grails, are receptacles, are vessels of men’s desire, wishes, and fears:

fill me in as the Sistine.

chapels I enter

find a use for me: bend me down,

I’m a bad girl, bend me down, wash it up.

the things in this holy house

say      clean the body             off of your body.

We have been told the body is dirty, the body is bad. As women, we have been told a woman’s body is dirtiest and a woman having agency over her body is the worst thing of all. Basile’s poetry wrestles with these stories; her poetry battles these mythologies that still hold us captive and still hold us back:

there is always

a garden.          there is always a garden.

there is always a woman.        there is always a woman.

there is always shame.            there is always punishment.

watch what you say,

I have knives in the brush.

Here is a poetry that is both destructive and productive. Here is a poetry that plays with the dichotomies surrounding sex, love, power, and family. Basile’s use of repetition is haunting and beautiful; her apocryphal “confessions” and the motifs that pattern them drive the reader to interrogate their own perceptions and how those perceptions are tainted by stories that shame the body and shame the woman. Basile’s poems contain both luminous joy and desperate pain; there is summer, there are white dresses, there is sex, there is Javi who leaves and Javi who comes back. Her poems bring to mind what Jeanette Winterson says is the purpose of art: “…[Art] leaves us with footprints of beauty. We sense there is more to life than the material world can provide, and art is a clue, an intimation, at its best, a transformation. We don’t need to believe in it, but we can experience it.” This poetry transforms shame into agency; this poetry transforms the “girl into sea.”

Rating 9/10

Ryder Collins has a novel, Homegirl! Her chapbook, The way the sky was now, won Heavy Feather Review’s first fiction chapbook contest, and she has two chapbooks of poetry, i am hopscotch without hop and Orpheus on toast. She wants to pull a cloud down from the sky & give it to you.