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Disparate Voices A Critical Analysis of Sue Ellen Thompson’s

They by Harold O. Wilson Aunt Connie asked if I cut my hair this way on purpose ~ she’s hilarious. ~ Thomasin Parnes Sue Ellen Thompson’s They is uncommon for a book of poetry in that it distributes postcards written by her adult child, Thomasin, among finely crafted poems. By collecting and curating these postcards, the author tells a story with this book that lies beyond the capacity of poetry alone to capture. What is that story? What is Thompson wishing to tell us by crafting a narrative that speaks through two disparate voices? In narrative verse, Thompson struggles with the growing awareness that her daughter is not what she expected when the nurse placed the glowing package in her arms. “How could I know my child would be / something I’d not yet heard of, never seen?” This is the voice of the poet, describing, analyzing, and reflecting on her relationship with her daughter. It is true that all Thompson’s work in this book explores personal family relationships, but the intensity of the poems about her daughter takes us to a new place. Her

placement of the poems describes an arc that slowly reveals the poet’s awareness that her daughter is transgender. Her little girl sees, feels, and knows herself not to be a “she” or a “he,” but a “they,” even though the “they” manifests itself primarily as male. This poetry challenges our own gender security by placing us in a world where the old rules no longer apply and a new appreciation of gender identity is demanded. In “Anniversary,” we are at the celebration table with the poet and her husband as they unfold their daughter’s four-page, singlespaced letter confirming what they did not want to know: the letter whose secrets would require that we begin from birth again to know our only child. There is no bitterness in Thompson’s poetry; there is no rancor and there is no denial. She plays the cards she has been dealt. The book begins with a note of confu-

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February 2015 ttimes web magazine  

Tidewater Times February 2015

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