‘Metamorphosis of Woman/ Realms of Man’ by Leilanie Stewart and Joseph Robert

-Reviewed by Jenna Clake


Metamorphosis of Woman/ Realms of Man is written by husband and wife Joseph Robert and Leilanie Stewart. The pamphlet is quirky, experimental and full of personality, and the reader is prepared for this by the chapbook’s reversible format:  on one side sits Stewart’s Metamorphosis of Woman; on the other is Robert’s Realms of Man. In the middle you will find the poets’ biographies, which are charmingly vague and self-irreverent, accompanied by photographs of inanimate objects (clothes for Stewart, a screwed-up piece of paper and monochrome squares for Robert).

Metamorphosis of Woman contains fourteen pages of self-published poems. Stewart employs distinctive voices in each poem, creating speakers that are honest, blunt and cynical; this creates a tone that is not dissimilar to Jennifer L Knox’s A Gringo Like Me. ‘Enlightenment’, the pamphlet’s second poem, begins with cynicism:

‘I got stuck
in the hole of enlightenment
my ass was too big to fit through’

‘Enlightenment’ questions the validity of religion, throwing Stewart’s work immediately into a contentious realm. However, the speaker’s candour is so irresistible, that one finds it difficult to be offended. That is not to say that Stewart is running away from controversy; she is able to present contentious issues in a way that invite consideration, therefore encouraging the reader to engage with her work and point of view. However, one gets the impression that even if the reader were offended, the forthright speaker wouldn’t really care.

Stewart’s ability to create voice in poetry is her talent. Her speakers are clearly envisioned, communicating Stewart’s opinions of her own writing: she half-heartedly laments her inability to write ‘nice, neat poems/ about winter, or cats’ in ‘Voodoo’. This should not be mistaken for self-deprecation, however. Stewart’s exuberant personality is in every poem, and it is ultimately refreshing.

Joseph Robert’s Realms of Man likewise contains fourteen pages of poems, which are quite distinct from Stewart’s. While Robert focuses on voice too, his interest is in the sounds these voices make, recreating their idiosyncrasies in a series of monologues and conversations.

Robert’s pamphlet is far more concerned with form and linguistic play than Stewart’s. Realms of Man includes acrostics and miniature crosswords, and experiments with grammar (or a lack thereof).   A personal favourite, ‘Oi! Nope. Oh? Wine Dark’ dissects the meaning of each word in its first line to divulge the protagonist’s lack of confidence and success in an interesting and original way.

The difference in the types of personae that Stewart and Robert write is also interesting. Robert’s are less cynical than Stewart’s, and perhaps more emotionally wrought at times. ‘Deli-Sliced’ implements one of Zeno’s paradoxes, Achilles and the Tortoise, to communicate the speaker’s inability to inhabit the same emotional space as the addressee. The paradox is as follows: ‘In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.’ The poem is surreal, with the speaker describing cutting a room into ‘ten-thousand samey cubes’. The persona’s train of thought is also difficult to follow, with each line ending with a dash, creating a stream-of-conscious narrative. However, the final line of ‘Deli-Sliced’, ‘You ever visited, and never stayed’ creates poignancy and direction, by finally revealing the speaker’s failure to maintain a relationship with another person.

Throughout both collections there are references to ancient history, usually in relation to language, which most likely stem from Stewart’s background in archaeology. Robert writes about ‘Hittite grammars’ in ‘Solar’, while Stewart devotes a whole poem, ‘Stoichedon’ to the ancient Greek practice of engraving, to discuss our inability to communicate effectively; this is a recurring theme in both collections.

It is evident why the poets have chosen to self-publish collaboratively: their work shares enough similarities to make the pamphlet seem unified, without one over-shadowing the other or the work blending into one undefinable collection. Metamorphosis of Woman/ Realms of Man is a largely successful pamphlet, and it is entertaining at the very least.

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