Book Review: Mermaids In The Basement

Mermaids In The Basement:  Poems For Women, by Carolyn Kizer

Unfortunately, when I was getting this book from the library, intrigued by its title, I did not see the subtitle of the book stating that this book, like so many that I read, was intended for an audience which I am most definitely not a part of [1].  In this particular case, I have to say that my being a man, and being a strong fan of the Judeo-Christian religious worldview, does not make very fond of this book.  Even though this book is aimed at women, I suspect there are a great many women who will not like what this book has to say, not least because the book attacks those women who were not themselves overtly hostile to men (Jane Austen is one of those who in a particular poem is insulted as being a cabbagehead for worshipping God as a man (41)).  If you are a woman and not fond of the supposed “sacred feminine” paganism this book endorses, the author is calling you cabbagehead.  I suppose she has worse opinions of men, but someone with that lack of charity of spirit and that lack of accuracy and good sense is not someone whose opinion matters too much.

Thankfully, this book is rather short at just over 100 pages, because it has little to offer a great many of its potential readers.  The books are divided into seven parts.  The first part looks at Mothers and Daughters, reflecting on marriage and family and having some disturbingly incestuous aspects to some of its lines.  The second part of the book is written for female friends, of which the author apparently only has five (for the amount of poems there are).  It is a wonder that the author has as many friends as she claims, given her overall lack of kindness in her lines.  The third part of the book consists of a four part poem “Pro Femina,” which may be the least essential thing that needs more written about it, as someone who has suffered through dozens of books that resolutely ignore men and their concerns altogether.  The fourth part of the book is devoted in true weebalo-like fashion to Chinese love, showing the author’s fondness for Eastern poetry, much of which is quite skilled in its execution.  The fifth part of the book consists of a few poems that show the author’s interest in heathen Greek mythology.  The sixth part of the book consists of a long poem dedicated to a month in summer, while the seventh and last section of poems consists of the author’s random and highly odd reflections on where she has been all her life, as if anyone wanted to know.

I am of two minds regarding this book.  One the one hand, the author is clearly a skilled poet when it comes to technical matters.  If the subject matter and approach of the poems had been less personally hostile in terms of matters of gender as well as religious worldview, I would have viewed this collection of poems very highly.  But that is precisely the problem.  A book of technically skilled poems of a wide variety of types shows off the virtuosity of the poet, to be sure, but the poet forgets that the first order of business when writing a book is to make the book acceptable to its audience when it is within his or her power to do so.  This book manages to be both false in its worldview as well as deliberately provocative to the point of being offensive to any man worth being called by the name and to the majority of the world’s women.  Unfortunately, this book’s target audience consists of neo-pagan women and present and future bitter misanthropic cat women, and that is not an audience I either write for or consider myself particularly sympathetic with.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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