The Year of the Femme

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Pub Date 01 Apr 2019 | Archive Date 01 Apr 2019
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press

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Description

“At the edge of a field a thought waits,” writes Cassie Donish, in her collection that explores the conflicting diplomacies of body and thought while stranding us in a field, in a hospital, on a shoreline. These are poems that assess and dwell in a sensual, fantastically queer mode. Here is a voice slowed by an erotics suffused with pain, quickened by discovery. In masterful long poems and refracted lyrics, Donish flips the coin of subjectivity; different and potentially dangerous faces are revealed in turn. With lyricism as generous as it is exact, Donish tunes her writing as much to the colors, textures, and rhythms of daily life as to what violates daily life—what changes it from within and without.

“At the edge of a field a thought waits,” writes Cassie Donish, in her collection that explores the conflicting diplomacies of body and thought while stranding us in a field, in a hospital, on a...


Advance Praise

“Donish’s voice is wreathed, garlanded, full of pollen and rain and clover and indigo—everything further broken, messy, lovely, loving, wild, and utterly itself, and it’s in that state that this voice, lush yet precise, is then thrown to us, the reader sighing with pleasure and pathos. A bold and redemptive truth is found here, not reliant on answers for its power and meaning.”—Brenda Shaughnessy, judge, Iowa Poetry Prize

“Atmospherically rich, these are poems in which you can feel the weather, smell fall coming, feel spring’s sky on your skin. Donish gives them all the time they need to fill from within with imagery and intelligence. They’re also full of pressing questions, and she goes clearly and directly into some of the most pressing of the contemporary moment—gender, desire, loneliness, and how they might all condition each other. And though there is anguish here, there is also considerable hope, a hope born of determination—‘Your heart is beating, yes, despite your scars.’”—Cole Swensen, author, On Walking On

“Donish’s voice is wreathed, garlanded, full of pollen and rain and clover and indigo—everything further broken, messy, lovely, loving, wild, and utterly itself, and it’s in that state that this...


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Featured Reviews

The Year of the Femme by Cassie Donish is a 2018 Iowa Poetry Prize-winning collection. Donish holds a BA in English and comparative religions from the University of Washington, and an MA in human geography from the University of Oregon. She currently teaches classes at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she's pursuing a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing. The collection opens with "Portrait of a Woman, Mid-Fall." A woman alone thinks of life and dreams while at the same time autumn is in view out the window. There seems to be a trap between security -- man or a dog, happiness or misery. There is a binary world that restricts dreams and time that limits choices. The yellow leaves dance on the wind while the red leaves crunch as they are crushed underfoot. Every day the number of leaves on the trees decrease and the number on the ground increase -- like discarded dreams. The woman wishes she can stop the leaves from changing merely because she knows she cannot. One thing cannot exist without its opposite. Arrival is not a rival of departure The two have to work together to make anything happen All the clocks move together through time Donish uses language and creates stunning images. Poems in the second section combine memories and impressions: Daylight glinting off dimes in the grass Daylight, and our teeth don’t feel different yet Daylight on top of the city, on top of the lake Daylight through a sieve of fingers Mimics the skyscrapers "Meanwhile, in a Galaxy" The final section, "The Year of the Femme," revisits the concept of the binary in two-part poems. The first part consists of prose poetry, complete sentences, and formed in a near perfect block. The other element of the verse is chaotic in the arrangement of phrases and line breaks. Each half compliments the other much like arrival and departure. A wonderful collection of poetry. Truly, one of the best in contemporary poetry. Available April 1, 2019

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Astute observations captured in lyrical, almost stream-of-consciousness style poetry. Observations and visions of nature mingle with internal thoughts and feelings, making up a rich bouquet of connections. Nature and humanity, knowledge and belief, memories and dreams, love and life. I think perhaps the poet's writing style fits the longer poems better, or at least the longer poems were the ones that stood out to me more. I especially liked Portrait of a Woman, Mid-Fall and Modern Weeds. But the most striking of the bundle was the poem The Year of the Femme. To me it read as the fragmented/distilled memories of a youth spent trying to figure out gender, trying to find oneself. It had an appealing sense of nostalgia to it. My copy seemed to be missing line breaks and page breaks in many places, though it being poetry I can't be sure that wasn't the intention. It made it hard to ascertain where one poem ended and another began though, resulting in a feeling of restlessness because there were no built-in natural stopping points to take a moment to reflect on what I was reading (which I often like to do when reading poetry). On the whole I think this collection of poetry has immense value, highlighting queer experience as something beautiful, worth celebrating and deliberating on in the form of poetry.

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The Year of the Femme is exactly what I like about contemporary poetry. It’s just so damn pleasant to read. It starts out with a 20-page poem, “Portrait of a Woman, Mid-Fall”, which I absolutely loved. Donish’s language is skilful in these two stanzas: “At the edge of a field a feeling of arrival awaits Arrival is not a rival of departure The two have to work together to make anything happen All the clocks move together through time In a flock of birds, some birds are a little behind All the birds are held together by a principle of form” (p. 15) In the above excerpt, the lack of punctuation adds to the poetic marvel; the garden pathing and gentle echoes are genius. Throughout the collection, Donish takes us from one vivid image to another. I compare it to being in a maze of floral shrubs, that, even when you are not led directly to your destination, the journey is aromatic and enjoyable, and all I wanted to do is be lost in her poems forever. Read the beginning of “The Leaf Mask” “she saw real birds as wind-up birds with intricate machinery, their whistles, the metal architecture of their wings—she saw them perched atop the hospital, where exhausted women brought catatonic lovers. She thought, all buildings are wild, inviting people into their mouths. One day she’ll chew the crowd to dust, spit out bones, watches, doves.” (p. 59) Refreshing—the best word to describe this collection. The shorter poems were consistently engaging and vivid, and I was torn between wanting to read it all in one sitting and wanting to savour it, piece by piece, slowly melting on my tongue. The book ends in the titular poem, “The Year of the Femme”, which is lyrical in its dualistic interplay of form and text. In the first stanza, Donish writes: “I grew up swimming in a slow-moving river, in words like sister and girls. I knew a waist was supposed to be soft, knew when it should be covered, when revealed.” The final poem is rich with eroticism, with sensuality, with the perfect combination of tight prose-poetry and loose verse. I find it hard to objectively describe the poetry, because, it is so much more than vocabulary choice or skilful editing. No, we’re taken on a journey, a boat ride with your hands running across the river’s cool surface. Even in the structural dichotomy, Donish’s voice remains effortless and ever-present. “The Year of the Femme” is filled with queerness and the nostalgia of past experience which might be clearer now, but she goes through them as if it’s her first time, living them as they should have been lived to begin with. And that’s the most touching aspect of the whole collection. Donish embeds her voice in crystal clear images, which in their fragmentation become so complete. And as the words take a life of their own, as the ink separates from the paper, we’re given a clearer identity while strengthening our connection with our surroundings; each breath becomes a lyrical exchange, to and fro. The essence of being elevates itself to an aesthetic way of being.

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The Year of the Femme is filled with witty, engaging poems. While not all are successful, I fully expect that the eponymous poem The Year of the Femme will be an award-winner.

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Winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, Cassie Donish’s (@CassieDonish) collection The Year of the Femme includes long, vivid poems that feel like wandering down a forest path surrounded by a gentle, crisp breeze and the smell of change in the air. Queerness abounds and I felt as though Donish was in my own head pondering desire, sexuality, gender, autonomy, loneliness, and hope. Each poem stands alone in its self-reflection and sincerity and yet the whole is woven together seamlessly. This is a collection that captures the thoughts and emotions of new as well as worn love, our explorations of the body and embodiment, and the questions we leave unanswered.

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Thoroughly enjoyed Donish's poems here, especially the manner in which she challenges the notion of sexuality — but also the fragile nature of relations between men and women. I love how her verses carry on novel-like, endlessly and uninterrupted. Beautiful.

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