Reviewed by Sophie Chouinard
Anne with an E
Handbound: 28 Pages
Publisher: dancing girl press (2016)
Available for $7.00 dgp
“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”
—Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
April Michelle Bratten’s second chapbook, Anne with an E, is a collection of poems loosely based on and inspired by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s endearing redhead, Anne Shirley. Although I faithfully watched the translated televised version of Anne of Green Gable as a tween, I have never read the books, nor set foot in beautiful Prince Edward Island; however, watching the series, I deeply related to Anne with her quirkiness and her non-stop chatter—that mouth that so often drove her head-on into trouble. I related to all those grandiose ideas and views she had about life, love, and friendship. I was madly in love with dashing Gilbert, and, wanting Matthew as a grandfather, sobbed when he died. I mistook Marilla’s severity for coldness and would have loved Diana as a best friend.
If there is greatness in this garden,
Diana will have it. I will gobble up this hot morning,
lick the sweat from her arm and mine, give her
the sweet bird’s nest, the soft rose, and I will
pin them with awful, intricate feet, padding
the painful grass, distorting the air around. (“Anne’s Sadness”)
In Anne with an E, I found all those Annes, and so many more. So many girls I didn’t expect hide behind that very important E: the fragile and quirky one we love and know, but also the one with a hushed past, or the jaded, almost savage one walking in shadows, or the Anne that felt and saw things she shouldn’t have felt and see:
I sit warm under a mocking
sky. I could tell you about leaving, about sinning,
about swinging little boys from my hip, or what happens
when a man does not receive his afternoon sandwich
in a timely manner, what happens to his penis after he is taken
to drink, but I will not. I cannot complain. I have a home
I can return to. Tell me, did the mouse squeak as it drowned
in the pudding? (“To Write a Letter When There is Too Much to Say”)
Bratten’s description of PEI’s winter, landscape, and people are so vivid, we can feel the frost coating our eyelashes, hear our sinking boots in the heavy snow:
Someone is coughing,
half-blanketed, staring out
at white supper cloud,
down crunchy winter-road
and through the muted valley,
snow. Snow, a captured thing
by naked doorway, frozen
cellulite to fatten the corners,
falling in January like tremendous
Worth mentioning is the only poem not written from Anne’s perspective—a poem written in the voice of Gilbert, which is particularly moving:
I watched Anne red on the riverside
Wet to a poppy she touched wet in a dress
Unhooked like windfall on the bank
Stark covered in sand I wanted to eat. (“Fishing For”)
In this collection of poems, Bratten stirs some strong emotions and several pieces put a finger on tender spots, but none did it for me as much as this one about Marilla and her seemingly dry, barren, and severe life, tightly spun around the spool of her broken dreams:
But there is dinner to prepare
and behaviors to perfect, as our knees squeak the wood.
You wouldn’t know by simply looking
but her head is a museum. It houses many beautiful aches.
This is why I follow her pace, swish,
up and down the cold brown, until she stops, suddenly, one worn
Hand clutched to her gray temple.
Fear bleaches the day far better than I can. Another pain Marilla?
I had a man who loved me once, she said. (“Marilla is a Museum”)
The artwork of the cover page should be mentioned: it is simple and pure, much like Anne herself and Bratten’s imagery is nothing short of breathtaking.
It doesn’t matter what Rachel Lynde says –
the world will remain dark
because the sun takes its time (“Wax”)
I cannot save you, I say. We are divorced; your life
ending in the grass as mine quietly stalls in the sun.
you do not bleed now, but we both know
you will. This is just another day. (“The Deer”)
Marilla, place your hands on me, cover my dangerous body with seeds.
I want to grow. I want to drink. How terrible, this morning. How
endless and afraid. (“The Lonely”)
Whether or not you know of PEI or of Anne of Green Gables, this gorgeous chapbook will take you through the seasons of Anne. Bratten’s poetry is skillful and poignant, the kind of writing that sticks with you, keeping on unveiling meanings even after several reads. She masterfully captured Anne’s spirit within these (too) few pages, and the reader will be able to relate to at least one of the many Annes concealed behind that not so silent E, so dear to Anne’s heart.
April Michelle Bratten has work published or forthcoming in Thrush Poetry Journal, Southeast Review, Zone 3, The Boiler Journal, Gargoyle, and others. Her latest chapbook, Anne with an E, was published by dancing girl press (2015.) She is the editor-in-chief of Up the Staircase Quarterly and the Vice President of the nonprofit Tandem Reader Awards. You can find out more at aprilmichellebratten.com.