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.
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
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