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Resurrection

Poems

Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

96 pages / 5.20 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Poetry

  Paperback / 9780807120590 / March 1996

Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller, Diane Arbus, Alice Liddell, Patty Hearst, Snow White, Thumbelina—real and imaginary women transfigured by suffering—speak in Nicole Cooley’s Resurrection, winner of the 1995 Walt Whitman Award.

As Cooley explores the bonds between sisters, mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, this important book follows a chorus of women’s voices along a hallucinatory nexus of terror. These are the voices of the martyred, the imprisoned, the exiled, the silenced, the forgotten, and as they shift from eastern Europe to Cambodia to New Orleans, it becomes agonizingly clear that our world with its ritualized misogyny is a dangerous place for women.

On the train to New Orleans 
my sister and I light the Virgen de 
Guadalupe 
candles and the line of unlucky women 
steps out from the flame.

They file past the window where we sit,
where we have given up
being safe from them, our four aunts with 
their loose dresses for mourning,

their fasting, their silent refusals. . . .

“Patty Hearst: A Love Poem,” addressed to the sister who wasn’t kidnapped, compares the inexorable winnowing away of personality through terror, brutality, and violation with its counterpart—the charade of “normal” family life:

I have learned the lesson of adulthood 
before you.

I was never a child.

With a vivid lexicon of ecclesiastical imagery—guilt, punishment, baptism, crucifixion, and, of course, resurrection—Cooley unflinchingly casts in lines of crystalline limpidity the voices of all women who through violence or fear were denied childhood. The chilling “Letter from the Louisiana Women’s Prison” resurrects the voice of a woman who drowned her son to remove the last obstacle between her and the lover she apostrophizes:

When I came to show you
what I had done, I wanted to make
a gift to you, a piece of hair
or the cut-off hands, fingers I pulled
out like tiny plants.

Over all these lost and frightened women floats the reassuring specter of Rose, a Hungarian matriarch, voice of guidance, of communal wisdom, of warning. Resurrection is an eloquent rendering of extreme psychological states—a disturbing invocation of rage, tenderness, solidarity, and ultimately of hope. 

Raised in New Orleans, Nicole Cooley is also the author of the poetry collections Resurrection, winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets,The Afflicted Girls, and Milk Dress. She directs the MFA program in creative writing and literary translation at Queens College-The City University of New York.

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