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DARK WONDER a review by Laura Sloan Patterson Gabrielle Brant Freeman. When She Was Bad. Winston Salem, NC: Press 53, 2016.

LAURA SLOAN PATTERSON is currently an English professor at Seton Hill University, located in western Pennsylvania. Her poetry has appeared in Sugar Water, Rust + Moth, HOOT, Not One of Us, and Mom Egg Review. Patterson’s poem “Delaware River,” a finalist in the James Applewhite Poetry Prize competition, was published in NCLR 2017. GABRIELLE BRANT FREEMAN earned her MFA from Converse College, located in Spartanburg, SC. Her poetry has been published in journals including Hobart, Rappahannock Review, Shenandoah, and Waxwing. In 2015, Freeman won the Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition with her poem “Failure to Obliterate.” Freeman teaches in the English Department at East Carolina University.

OPPOSITE RIGHT Gabrielle Brant Freeman with Press 53 Editor Kevin Morgan Watson at the press’s 12th anniversary celebration, Bookmarks bookstore, Winston-Salem, 9 Oct. 2017

Gabrielle Brant Freeman’s When She Was Bad is a meditation on female sexuality and on the range of roles a woman can play in relationships. Instead of the wellworn territory of madonna versus whore, Freeman gives us whore (“a woman doing someone else’s / version of wrong’) versus lupa (the she-wolf, a “sexually voracious female”). Freeman’s poetic persona does not judge the friend who has sex in a bathroom at an office party; instead, she wishes she had asked, “Did you bare your neck or your teeth?” The attitude toward sex acts and sexuality in this collection is one of curiosity and dark wonder, as if to point out the amazing range of characters one might play in each new encounter or relationship. The voice of these poems has long since shaken off any judgments apart from her own judgments of herself, and even those are few and far between. When She Was Bad is not, however, an in-your-face shock value collection. Instead, it contemplates a far more subtle and complex space: sexuality that is both brashly revealed and furtively hidden, sometimes at the same time. While sexuality is the running theme that ties these poems together, there is also an exploration of the emotional landscapes of relationships, with a sustained theme of betrayal and abandonment. A section in the middle of

the book depicts an arc of the end of relationship. Interestingly, it is an arc and not a denouement into a flat space. Poems such as “The Art of Deception,” “One of these statements is true,” “Your Own Lecherous Heart,” “Wanted,” “Since you weren’t using it,” “Want,” “Selling the House,” “The Sorrowful Lover Stands,” and “How to Snag a Man” lead readers through a cycle of betrayal, discovery, revenge, sadness, and the state of being recovered enough to try again. The poems avoid selfpity or sentimentality about failing and failed partnerships. Domestic scenes and objects set the tone, as in the poem “Want”: “The portable turntable still plays,” but “the speed / isn’t quite right” and the saved “bottle of good scotch” simply “didn’t work.” “Want” ends with a dream version of the former partner lighting a cigarette at the foot of the bed and pulling on his shoes: “But the bench remains / empty. The bottle and the street, / they comfort me. I wear them like smoke.” Freeman is also a gifted sestina writer. The sestina, with its six stanzas of six lines each and three-line send-off, ends each line with one of a pool of six words, and the six end-words rotate in a fixed order. While writing in this pattern is not challenging, writing a sestina in which lines don’t sound as if they are running awkwardly toward a specific

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.