She Must by Rosie Sherwood

-Reviewed by Bethany W. Pope

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She Must, by Rosie Sherwood, is a very brief, barely illustrated narrative ostensibly based on the comic book format that describes a woman ‘who might or might not be time itself’. That quote is from the website, by the way. There is nothing so clear in the book. The book itself has been beautifully assembled: the paper has been lovingly chosen, and is of very high quality. The stock is a smooth, creamy ivory that pairs well with the grayscale photographs.

It is very difficult to write a comprehensive review about a piece of media that is eight pages and 172 words long. I can say that there is no narrative, and that while this is not a flaw in poetry generally, it is when the book is being marketed as a story-poem. I can also say that it was very clever to sell this pamphlet in a cardboard-backed comic-shop Mylar bag: this enhances the sensation of reading a fusion of forms, a mixture of the comic-book kitsch and a more modern poetic aesthetic.

Photos from

Photos from

The cover image is a photograph of a woman standing, hipshot, in a clearing in the woods. The image has been so washed out that this isn’t immediately apparent. Her shirt is visible. Her head. Her legs. There are a few faded branches. The images within the book (one, two, or three inch-wide frames to a page; all washed out to inscrutability, dropped into a sea of ivory) are done in the same style and, after much strain, reveal the same woman standing in a variety of settings, in poses that project a ghostly disinterest. There are more pictures of washed-out ceilings and sunlight through branches. The words that accompany them (I cannot say ‘story’) are enigmatic to the point of saying nothing. It was difficult to select a suitable quote; it was difficult to find a selection of words that say much. Here is page eight:

She must never
her name
she must
be honest

This is accompanied by an image of the author (her legs, hair, and torso) standing in an over-exposed field of gray light, as well as what looks like a shot of an empty clearing – though, again, the only things clearly visible are the trunks of the trees. As a concept, this pamphlet had a great deal of promise. The fusion of forms the author proposed, a mixture of visual and narrative story-telling, of pulp and high art, is one that is not seen frequently enough in contemporary poetry. Unfortunately, the content did not justify this promise.

Minimalism does not have to be like this. In ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ William Carlos Williams said more about life (and arguably the nature of time) than most novels. More modern minimalists, such as Kevin Reid working with his wonderful erasures, pierce the pith of truth with work that could comfortably be tattooed on the ball of a thumb. Minimalism can produce great art – unfortunately, a great many writers use blank space as a substitute for talent, and scattered word-fragments as a replacement for discipline.