Many women are…taught to not take up too much air. No wonder life is dim, however much she hopes for chocolate or ginger…..
In Beate Sigriddaughter’s new collection of prose poems, Kaleidoscope (2021), the speaker is a woman, a feminist, and, sometimes, a philosopher. She is a free spirit who longs to slow down and enjoy life and the beauty of the natural world. However, other people stop her from doing that. Society in general and male dominated churches, schools, and governments share the blame.
Born and raised in Germany, Beate Sigriddaughter is an established writer and feminist advocate. She publishes the website Writing in A Woman’s Voice that promotes women-centered poetry. Her own published works include a short story and a poetry collection. Kaleidoscope is a collection that should be read from a fearless feminist poet who’s mastered the prose poem.
The first thing I noticed when reading Kaleidoscope was that the initial sentence of each of the prose poems cleverly draws the reader into the piece. I couldn’t resist reading poems that begin with sentences like: “She stood on the curbside of her life with her pathetic cardboard sign, ‘Anything helps’” (“Like Beggars”) or “Lovers, terrorists, children, hungry rabbits, and frost all have their own agenda in the garden” (”The Garden”) or “He reminds her of a boy with snakes on a delicious day in early spring” (“Boy with Snakes”).
The speaker in Kaleidoscope has a lot to say about societies steeped in male oppression. She condemns society’s “indoctrination,” telling us that “[a]n ancient saying goes, Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance. Her version would be, Never give a man a sword at all” (“Women and Men”). She reveals that “she has been taught not to trust herself…” (“Urgency”) The speaker mentions chanting to herself: Do not look like you need approval. This is your life (“Gender”). She exposes society’s negative conditioning of women that makes them feel guilty about practically everything (“Conditioning”). She adds: “It is not safe to be beautiful or remarkable in any way” (“Anguish”).
These poems fearlessly condemn organized religion’s underpinnings and expose its misogynist attitudes. For example, this is entirety of the poem “Church”:
When she goes to Church, she has to listen to the priests proclaim her unimportant, impure, ignorant, filthy, and every other vile thing sexless men can think of, and she has to listen graciously and in the name of God. She doesn’t go often, though the music is astonishingly beautiful.
Similarly, the speaker persistently tries to discover and connect with the traditional God:
She tried to talk to God again today, hoping to connect with sexless reverence to something greater than herself. When no answer came, she listened to the night instead. Tires on gravel, an owl, coyotes, then silence, then the rhythm of her heart.
The speaker finds true peace when immersed in the natural world. She writes: “A raven alights on the bird bath. She surrenders to its beauty. Her heart fills with gold” (“Gratitude”).
But there’s a problem with that. The speaker details for us how her concerns for the world prevent her from truly losing herself contemplating the beauties of nature. She explains: “She wants to praise a lizard’s detailed toes clutching warm walls of morning, instead, she reads of a woman stoned to death for tripping over her male relatives’ egos” (“Anguish”).
These prose poems are beautiful and remarkable–and anything but safe. The poems themselves are intoxicating, with language that engages the reader from the very start and keeps on holding the reader’s attention. Their words act as anthems encouraging women to enjoy life free from male domination. As the speaker in “Power” says, “[She wanted] to tread a path for women and men to honor each other in peace.”
Kaleidoscope by Beate Sigriddaughter is a thoughtful contribution to feminist literature and to poetry. I think you’ll enjoy reading it, and you just may learn something. I know I did.