Sherwood Forest, by Camille Roy
Review by Alyse Bensel
Futurepoem Books, 2011
Sherwood Forest, Camille Roy’s sixth poetry collection, exposes the performance of gender. Marginalized people populate their own world that sweeps across the book’s pages. These poems reenact and reconfigure social norms, disorienting yet evolving throughout the book in prose and lyric forms alike. In a preface to the collection, Roy, a leading figure in the San Francisco-based “New Narrative” movement, claims that Sherwood Forest “is a San Francisco text,” which proves true in pages that recollect and infuse the past with a rich projective force, always engaging with sexual physicality. While the poet attempts to navigate her life, the reader simultaneously tries to piece together a world that may seem like foreign territory, but actually provides brief glimpses into a world of borders, filled with life’s experiences.
As the book’s title suggests, a series of poems reconfigure traditional fairy tales, as the poet makes them her own. In “Cinderfella,” Roy combines fairy tales just as she mixes gender, saying, “When Cinderfella became a boy / her tongue leapt from his heart, the red flag of the new kingdom.” Or, in “Red Hood,” the narrator describes Little Red falling into a stream where “Worlds withdraw from the rushing water.” Left “Alone, without politics, / she’s swept from mother to night. // My body is every body, she cries,” before the wolf consumes her. These rewritten fairy tales invoke the political nature of the gendered body.
The rights of the LGBT community come to the fore in prose poems that recast typical storytelling. In “Diary of 3 Words,” the speaker transcribes three journal-like entries that read as quick vignettes, while covering significant ground. The first section, “April 14 (Tuesday): Trash,” the speaker tells of a old acquaintance, TeaJay, who “had a weird relation to language: words entered her and didn’t come out.” TeaJay and her friends arrive at the parlor one night wearing “athletic jackets which had been custom-made in satin…” that “…glowed in the smoky club. On the backs in big white letters was the word TRASH.” The speaker describes these jackets as “shocking and beautiful,” as she wishes for one of her own, for the letters to adorn her body.
Occasionally, short lyrics pop onto the pages that reveal more than they obfuscate. In “Today,” the speaker observes the city, mixing lyric with politics as someone says:
“We can’t become our culture
when it abandons us.”
We swelter the long walk to the river,
our memory of which is sky
hurtling into non-sky,
robes of wind & ice crystals.
This rubble is justice passing.
In demanding justice from the fragmented lives of a shared community, Roy’s poems remain strong and raw even in what appears as light (and conventional) lyric form. Nothing about this collection gives way to the conventional. The poems constantly reinvent as way to avant-garde performance, never shying away from words that need to be said in order to gain a voice on the political landscape that attempts to normalize gender. Just as “Marching Band” states, “I tried the lacy pants, but they itched. // What is a girl, anyway?”
Alyse Bensel, a native of Pennsylvania, currently resides in State College, PA, while pursuing her MFA in poetry at Penn State. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in MAYDAY, Cider Press Review, Foothill Poetry, The Meadowland Review, Evening Skyline Review, and Untitled Country Review. When not engaged in her teaching and studies, she works at non-profit art organizations and for a work-share program at a local CSA.