In Barbara Tomash’s brilliant reworking of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, the continuity and causality of the nineteenth-century novel are transformed into the isolate flecks of twenty-first century poetry. In this masterpiece of excision and refashioning, Tomash has uncovered the troubling, luminous strands within the text, and given us a revelatory and radical new experience of her protagonist, Isabel. If the novelist built a world that is stable, the poet unveils a world that is fluid or broken or shifting and shimmering, in which the language has its own story to tell. When that language is set free in the poem, placed in dialogue with silence, what do we find in Her Scant State? America, men, marriage, money: the familiar detritus of our capitalism. And also a breathtaking lyricism, alive inside every word of this powerful poem.
“Playing with the themes of the source text, “women’s independence and the struggle and sacrifice required to maintain it,” Barbara Tomash creates, not a portrait of a lady, but a compound portrait of women seen through the lens of these concerns throughout time. We can feel the thread of Henry James’ masterpiece vibrating in the background of these brilliantly selected and re-engineered phrases. Often rooted in vivid concrete imagery, her language (and it does become her own, completely) strikes a dynamic between first and third person, nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, and the opening of a novel and its denouement. It’s a work that’s both deeply moving and ingeniously playful.”—Cole Swensen
“Here was history: asserts one section of Her Scant State—but note that the colon is suspended over the page’s free-falling white space. Such is Barbara Tomash’s excavation and reclamation of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady. Her virtuosic erasure is so attuned that the reader sighs with pleasure before absorbing the thousands of small disruptive/processes incised by Tomash’s exquisitely sharp lyric knife. Refigured from a nineteenth-century narrative, this poetry points to corruptions of money, empire, ownership and misogyny so continuous and contemporary that a woman thinks she may doubt time. Tomash breaks through the smooth, blank surfaces we would interpose between ourselves and reality. Recognizing the caught creatures we are, this poetry unlocks the door of our vast cage.”—Elizabeth Robinson
Poetry. Women’s Studies.
Barbara Tomash is the author of four previous books of poetry including most recently PRE- (Black Radish), and two chapbooks, Of Residue (Drop Leaf) and A Woman Reflected (palabrosa). Her writing has been a finalist for the Dorset Prize, the Colorado Prize, the Test Site Poetry Prize, and the Black Box Poetry Prize. She lives in Berkeley, California and teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University.Author City: BERKELEY, CA USA