Class Acts, Katerina Fretwell’s seventh poetry (and art) collection, establishes a posthumous relationship with Mary Wollstonecraft, the first suffragette, whose works have carved a path for feminists for hundreds of years. In the first section of the collection, “Our Mirroring Centuries,” Fretwell uses Wollstonecraft’s life and writings as a springboard for an imagined dialogue with her, or a monologue inspired by her. In the second and third sections, the poems are responses to Wollstonecraft that explore “brokenness” as a broad theme—in the world in general, and in the poet’s own world. In the final section, “The Other Half,” Fretwell goes back to the first part of her life, the fifties, and focuses on how it was different—in some ways better and yet still flawed. Fretwell is well versed in the circumstances of Wollstonecraft’s life: her husband, acquaintances, social circle and key events. It is on these that she bases many of the dialogues and monologues, along with her own life story, courageously referring to elements of her own life, some of which are highly personal. This knowledge and reflection are assets to the collection, combining the layers the author brings to the work with a call to the reader for an awareness of her own role within the poetry.
Poetic forms mirror themes: repetitive pantoums underscore female restraints in Wollstonecraft’s time; prose poems vocalize middle class fear; sestinas reflect alcoholic, cloistered socialites; blank, staggered verse mimics desperate penury.
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