This collection of poetry chapbooks (totalling 40 poems over the three books) is an artistic collaboration between Michele, of My Inspired Life and her artist-illustrator daughter, Sami Lee. The books form a beautiful trilogy, evoking a shared experience of womanhood in charting the journey from self-doubt through self-acceptance to self-love. I will review each book individually before giving my opinion of the collection as a whole.
This first chapbook begins with the poem ‘My Curves,’ in which the poet describes being sent to the back of a school photo line-up in order to hide her full figure:
‘A girl in middle-school, I was already uncomfortable in my own skin.’
This line sets the tone of the whole book, which deals with how we can move away from feeling ‘less than,’ into acceptance of the skin we are in, a realisation already expressed by the poet in the final lines of this first poem:
‘Life is full of curves and lines.
If these lines make you uncomfortable –
You don’t need to stay
but my curves do.’
In the poem ‘A Girl,’ Michele examines how she was never taught ‘to drive a boat or change a tire’ because of her gender. Growing up, she learned the importance of self-sufficiency, a lesson she taught to her daughter:
‘These tasks and more, taught to her
by someone who understands,
that everyone should be independent
and self-sufficient, not just a man.’
I found myself cheering the poet on through her unfolding story, and was grateful for the sense of having shared in a communal female experience. By the end of this book, I felt that I was not alone in Being a Woman and ‘Overcoming’ the challenges that life throws at me.
In Michele’s words: ‘This second collection moves the reader from the first-person speaker, found in the first collection, into a universal voice that describes feelings and situations relatable to all women.’ This voice is strong in the first poem:
‘Not one woman being or one woman doing
showed up to become something other than
one glorious human.’
I love the contrast of ‘woman being’ with ‘woman doing,’ and also the implied contrast of ‘woman being’ with ‘human being.’
In the poem ‘Third Person,’ Michele explores the idea of a third-person narrative being employed to belittle a woman, talking about her as if she is not there:
‘Stop speaking as if I am not here.
Stop the overt rudeness.
I am not a character from a book;
I am human – flesh and blood…
An all-knowing narrator, you are not.
Speak directly and respect my presence.’
The poem ‘Becoming You,’ is perhaps the keystone of this book, as it examines all the roles a woman can inhabit from the moment of her birth to her dying breath:
‘None replace, take away, or begin to compare
to the miraculous moment when you became one
with the body that has helped you become’
‘Don’t Ask’ continues to explore the theme of ‘becoming,’ concluding:
‘Becoming is a process with moments that can seem pointless.
Becoming is a process with moments that cannot be rushed.’
There are three poems celebrating strong women from various historical eras, beginning with the all-female fire crew of ‘Engine 34,’ followed by an examination of the bones of a Viking Warrior, initially believed to be male, who turned out to be female:
‘the identity of a mighty man
who became a high-ranking woman
when the tools of their trade revealed details of a Viking story
the experts were reluctant to tell.’
The book concludes, most appropriately, with a poem honouring the women who fought to bring the 19th Amendment into effect in the US, thus granting women the right to vote. All in all, this is an empowering collection of poems.
This final chapbook in the collection begins with a hopeful poem which recollects some of the pivotal moments from the previous books:
‘From the banished back row,
she did step forward.
Her curves revealed by a full
moon’s midnight glow.’
There are many songs of freedom in this book, for example ‘Barefoot Angel,’ which beautifully expresses the joy of dance:
‘In a fraction and a step, a lifetime
of bliss exchanged
between an angelic messenger
and a grateful receiver.’
There are poems in honour of women who have impacted the poet’s life in a positive and inspiring way, from ‘Notorious R.B.G,’ (a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg), to her own departed female relatives, in the poems ‘Her Hands,’ ‘Fresh Fruit,’ ‘Dancing Evelyn,’ ‘Evelyn Sidelined’ and ‘Return Home.’ Each of these very personal poems is a delicate and heartfelt tribute to some very special women who have left their mark upon the poet’s heart. On such a note of tribute, this fine poetry collection ends.
This collection is a delightful combination of poetry and art, and a victorious celebration of the rich tapestry of physicality, life events and experiences which, woven together, form the fabric of female experience. The books are exquisitely illustrated throughout with graceful line drawings by Sammi Lee. The story behind the collection is also heartwarming. In Michele’s own words:
‘The mom and daughter duo began working on their Being a Woman illustrated poetry books at the start of the pandemic, not knowing how meaningful their long-distance collaborative project would be during a time of disruption and disconnection across the globe. Their Being a Woman endeavor has allowed the poet mom and artist daughter to strengthen their womanly bond and encourage other women to celebrate their own magnificent womanhood.’
The book is on sale through Mother’s Day (9 May in US, Canada, NZ and Australia) and would make the perfect gift for any beloved mother. It is also a great way for men to gain an insight into the female experience, but most of all, as a woman reading this, it is the perfect gift to give yourself in celebration of the wonderful and inspiring human being you truly are!