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Bluebeard’s Wives
ed. by Julie Boden and Zoë Brigley

Heaventree Press ISBN 978-1906038045

This poetry collection came about when Julie Boden, a former poet laureate of Birmingham, was made poet in residence at Birmingham Symphony Hall. She invited a number of women writers to come and listen to Bela Bartók’s opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. This drew a number of poetic responses from the women, and the idea grew from there. Other poets were then invited to add to the collection.
The myth of Bluebeard being hard to pin down, the poets here have drawn inspiration from various sources: Bartók’s affairs, the legend of Mr. Fox, the seven doors, the four wives—morning, noon, evening and night, Malinche (Frida Kahlo). The pirate Bluebeard is hinted at perhaps in reference to his sword, but within the poems he becomes a boy pulling off a bluebottle’s wings, a City worker, a fastidious cleaner’s ideal boss. The youngest wife, Judith, in poem after poem, makes the mistake of trying to own his heart.
Often, the simplest lines are the most effective, such as in Sibyl Ruth’s ‘Curious’:

Already you are plotting
to open the locked cabinet of his heart.

It is dangerous to attempt this.
Don’t start.

But, there are lapis lazuli and heavy red velvets for the aesthetes also, so long as you realise that’s not what they really are.
Broadly, the poems are less about the horrors of a murderous husband than they are about women’s fears that they may get the ogre in the fairytale and not the prince that they’ve glimpsed on the surface. Superficiality? Fear of commitment? Admitted to by women? Yes, you read that right. Contemplation of the monstrous ‘other’, here, Bluebeard, is held up by some of the narrative female voices like a sort of cracked mirror. Take these lines from ‘Widow’ by Jane Holland:

Some nights, I wake to find him gone;
Stalk the old corridors

In search of my man, trying each door,
Calling the wrong name.

All in all, a hauntingly bittersweet collection.

Review by Donna Scott

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