Black Lawrence Press
June 1, 2017

Welcome, Anne Champion!

During the month of June, we are celebrating the authors that came to us during our last open reading period. Today we bring you Anne Champion, author of the poetry collection The Good Girl is Always a Ghost, which is due out in July of 2018.

authorphotoThe Author

Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013),  and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017).  Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Epiphany Magazine, The Pinch, The Greensboro Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, New South, and elsewhere.  She was an 2009 Academy of American Poet’s Prize recipient, a Barbara Deming Memorial grant recipient, and a 2015 Best of the Net winner. She currently teaches writing and literature at Wheelock College in Boston, MA.

 

 

On writing The Good Girl is Always a Ghost

I’ve always said that I was a feminist far before I understood what a feminist was: as a young child, I was searching for women that went against the grain, women who bravely defied gender constraints and left a legacy of courage. Nearly all of my Halloween costumes were impersonations of real women in history: Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Madonna.

Champion Blog PostTherefore, the writing of these poems really began at least a decade ago; in examining my childhood and adolescence, odes, persona poems, and confessional poems about these women kept springing up. A couple of years ago, I decided to make a collection for iconic women in history, but I wanted to go deeper than I’d previously gone. Of course, I wanted to include the women who’d inspired me and impacted my identity, but I also wanted to dig and discover more women, women who history has, in some ways, forgotten.

So this became a research project. I watched documentaries, dug up old newspaper articles, scoured the internet, watched interviews on Youtube, and read books. Some of the women are obvious icons who are part of the pulse of America’s consciousness of women, but many of them aren’t. I wanted to ensure that the book addressed women from all over the world, and it was important to me that the book was diverse: women of different races, ethnicities, ages, sexualities, transgender women and men, and women who were not able bodied.

In doing so, this book became a practice of empathy and an examination of oppression and privilege based on factors of race, sexuality, gender identity, disability, and social class for women and girls. Each woman I wrote about became an obsession as I researched. As I wrote, each one became a fundamental part of me—I took them in.  While so many stories were heart wrenching, these women are nothing short of marvels, beacons of light that guide me. In fact, it’s working title was Wonder Women—they felt like superheroes. Ultimately, I changed the title because it’s important to remember that these women don’t have any magic powers: the fact that they triumphed as ordinary women in a sexist world is precisely what makes them extraordinary. I’ve never written a collection of poems that was guided by such a profound feeling of love as this one.

Excerpt

MAE WEST INSTRUCTS HOW NOT TO LOVE

Look away from the platinum crown;
it’s not a message. It doesn’t say
I’m the “come upstairs for a good time” gal.
It doesn’t smell of strawberries
left in a kitchen sink; you don’t need
to hover over me like fruit flies
or dance yourself into a frenzy
around a streetlamp. Keep that up
and I’ll love you the way wet hair clings
to a girl after a hot bath—a little cold
and brittle by morning.
You don’t need to hold me
like a spiked punch bowl ready
to splash onto your pristine carpet.
Don’t ogle me like nipple tassels
you confuse for fireworks
in a bourbon blur—
if you keep looking at me like that,
I can only take you like a bullet.
I’m not a woman like the rest,
but I’m a woman nonetheless.
Love me right, and I’ll love you
more than my pen as it pours
across the page characters
so brazen that I can hear
the censors’ black pens snuffing
out every breath. I’ll love you
like the cross-dresser loves makeup,
loves the blisters that heels leave on his toes.
I’ll love you with the tenderness
two women take to bed
when they can sneak away
from their husbands and kids. I’ll love
you like the pianist can’t admit
he loves the out of tune key—
how he learns to make it work
in a song, how he never gets over
the surprise of it not sounding
exactly how it should.

THE MOST TERRIBLE THING
For Sylvia Plath, on the 50th Anniversary of her death

Your imagination springs its jaw
on me like a rat trap, snare snapped
at the neck, tiny metal teeth
leaving a row of scars, and I
a smiling woman, seeking to loot
your treasures, sea of adjectives
in a dark, cold mud bath of declarative
muck, oh, little bloody mouths, oh,
fat gold watch.  Oh, you—
you bewitched us, cursed him,
and set us all ticking in a trance
of engines, churning and turning
and burning for you. I pray
to you more than I pray to God;
I am your opus, your valuable
jewel, your daughter, living still
in a world too cruel, a life
you shrugged off like a heavy
winter coat. But I carry on
for you, my throat caressing
your syllabics as I ask the Ouija
to bless me in your name, recover
your voice amongst the fiercest flames
where the golden lotus still grows.
Your tragic romance—everyone thinks
they know; women kneel down
to kiss your boot in their face.
For years we’ve let your voice
sing. We need you to be
the most terrible thing.

FOR MEENA KAMAL*
*Feminist revolutionary activist in Afghanistan, assassinated in 1987.

The wildness of women can’t be plucked like papery moth wings.
Your police batons are a firebrand, and only our bones will obey

by breaking. One after another, each of us gulps the Afghanistan air
and butterflies the desert with our sanded voices. This is not rage:

this is a recitation of an ancient prayer. Come closer and listen—
I want to tell you a story of blood and men and castles

resting on human remains. It is centuries old with the usual lures:
shadows of women lurking in bare margins, sleeping lions erupting

after being prodded by sticks in the ribs. It’s a heavy tome
that steadies like an anchor. Every woman knows it by heart.

For my country, I’ll give my open throat, and from it, I’ll strip
the begging from their mouths, dowse them in the sweat of tulips,

their bodies rewritten through blossom,
their pollen stained faces turned toward the sun.

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