Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss. A book review by Perle Champion.
To call Theodora Goss’s book, Songs for Ophelia, a poetry book would not do justice to the stories that lie beyond the gossamer illustration gracing its cover. This is a collection of hauntingly beautiful stories some new, some old retold – a storybook for grownups.
The term songs instead of poems suits this collection of prose stories. It puts one in mind of the bards of old, who with lyre in hand, sang their tales. In Songs for Ophelia, we accompany our own bard through enchanted realms, traversing the wheel of the year in the ancient way season by season, song by song. Strewn through this collection are songs populated by names out of legend and myth whose stories we thought we knew full well until we read Goss’s deft retelling. In her hands the stories are at once familiar and not. She adds a depth as she explores and exposes possibilities giving each character and place a richer more well-rounded existence on the page
Reviewing poetry is so very different from reviewing a novel, so I’ve chosen to give a small glimpse of one poem from each season of Goss’s enchanted collection.
Spring: In The River’s Daughter, the river morphs from like a father to father in this homage to the death of a much admired writer. “She walks into the river/ with rocks in her pockets, / and the water closes around her/ like the arms of a father…”
Summer: In By Tidal Pools, Goss gives new dimension to Circe affair with Odysseus. She elevates Circe from the flat stereotype of Homer’s telling to a fully imagined woman with real yearnings. “At first she watched in case he should return/ by tidal pools…Does he lie on some shore/ where snails leave glistening tracks upon his eyes,/ or has he found his home?”
Autumn: In A Walk in Autumn, Summer becomes a maiden and slain. Although I prefer to raise a glass to Persephone descending into hades, the imagery in this song is haunting. “Her name was Summer – her hair the grasses/ her gown the forest’s leafy cloth… She lies unburied, exposed to weather/ in tattered garments the worse for wear…”
Winter: And lastly, there is The Last Night That She Lived. Who has not pondered these lines in some variation? “When soul from form is rent,/ do streams run over stones/ in valleys of content?/ Or dust, on bones?”
Ray Bradbury once told me to read good poetry or an essay before turning out the lights at night. He said he kept a good book or two of poetry or essays by his bed and read from one or the other volume every night. He said it turn the mind away from the noise and garbage of the day and prepared the mind for dream.