thechapbookreview

Ryan W. Bradley Reviews Parts, by Molly Gaudry

Parts

By Molly Gaudry
Mud Luscious Press
Unpaginated

Reviewed by Ryan W. Bradley

Stories in verse, as a concept, are fairly amorphous. Abstract yet accessible. After all, literature (all of it) stems from them and the oral tradition. With this plethora of history, you’d think talking about modern stories in verse would be easy. Instead the discussion often becomes mired in debates about form. What is a prose poem, what’s the difference between a story in verse and a regular poem, when is a story a story? Each link of this chain is broader than the last. Have we yet asked when is writing writing? If not, we will soon.

Parts by Molly Gaudry is an excerpt of We Take Me Apart, her novella in verse due in December from Mud Luscious Press, and while, like any good writerly-nerd, I am intrigued by all the questions of form and content that so often plague discussions of “genre-confused” (for lack of a wittier description) work, I decided to simplify things and think of Gaudry’s piece in two ways: first, as a poem, and second, as a story.

Parts poetically fits into the grand tradition of the feminist canon, by which I mean to invoke the reclamation of the female gender as an identity, as it is so beautifully rendered in the work of Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Ellen Bass, and many others. Gaudry defines the femininity of her subject with an adept strokes that move from the women’s outer shell (their clothing) to their inner terrain (their bodies). She begins:

I began to produce several dresses a week &
in the making of them not a single flower
part was left out because every part has a function…

While the narrator’s gender remains ambiguous, Gaudry here has introduced the subject of gender with a single word, namely, “dresses”. Two stanzas later she writes, “for we are more than our parts,” letting the reader know, this poem isn’t just about what makes us or what separates us, it’s about the human condition, the ultimate muse of great poets. As the poem moves on, the parts of the flowers are given, acting in the absence of the what that is not given: the body. Gaudry, working almost the way a Soviet montage in film works, weaves images of the tailor putting dresses together with the flowers, these disparate images inferring different meanings, allowing open-ended interpretations:

I sewed buttons so that
those dresses would not come undone &
leave those women bare without their
wanting to be

This passage is followed up by the word “stalks”, a stanza unto itself, listing the next flower part, but also playing off the idea of a woman bared. Not a sexual image, but one of an identity having been stripped away. But in the end nothing is hidden from the tailor:

I like to think now of these
women in the moment of their undressing
fragmentary
ripe for fertilization

These final lines tie the whole piece together, bring us back to the beginning of the poem where Gaudry writes, “we are all of us more than our parts.” At the same time, though there is the feeling that though we may be more, there is no escaping our parts, just as the flower cannot shed its petals without remaining a flower. And though this assertion is humbling, and possibly, given your mood, morose, it is also comforting, especially to the tailor, one can assume, as he or she clearly finds solace in his or her occupation which only exists because of the parts in the first place.

In a story one must look at plot or at the very least the arc from the beginning to the end. What happens, where does the story take you as a reader? Parts, ostensibly, is about a tailor, working on a dress detailed with flowers, reflecting o what they mean to the women who wear them. The tailor likes to

think of these women sitting
cross-ankled on park benches thinking of
their ovaries

We are, of course, drawn back to reflect on gender, but not in a banal way, as the next stanza reads:

I liked to think of these women thinking of
how to decrease the contamination of their
ovaries

The women in the tailor’s imagination are not concerned with the latest fashions, with reality television shows, or making babies. They are concerned with the health of their womanhood, as represented here by their ovaries. Fertilization is a pervasive theme in Parts, as the word is used once for every two pages of the chapbook. But here it is a source of conflict. As the tailor sees the women as “ripe for fertilization” he or she also feels the need to give the women shelter:

I made
hidden pockets because every woman
should have a place to hide her personals

While she clearly sees the utilitarian view of fertilization, the tailor wants to give women protection, a way to secrete themselves from the world if need be.

More than anything, Parts, as a story, is a learning process. A character study. The reader is given a chance to learn how the tailor’s mind works, how he or she views the world. And ultimately this is what makes the excerpt a teaser. By the time you finish reading the beautiful poetry of Parts and have begun investing in the tailor, wanting the story to bloom in full, you realize you have to wait until December to have it in your hands and then consume it wholly.

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