HIDING IN A THIMBLE, a HVTN Press debut poetry collection by Roseanna Alice Boswell, reviewed by Erin Carlyle

Roseanna Alice Boswell’s debut collection of poetry, Hiding in a Thimble imagines power in the most tender of places:

Bunny needs you to get hip
to her hop, her sexual symbol
status—fertility goddess
fur princess swoon. She is cotton-
tailed and pheromoned.

With a sharp, rose-colored knife, her poems artfully tear apart the meaning of the word saccharine. What is cutesy on the surface belies a darkness brewing underneath. Boswell’s poems interrupt sweetness with raw and dangerous thoughts. They exist in the dark corners of a Disney romance, and live in the inner worlds of girls and women.

Split into five sections that Boswell calls volumes, the book is populated with women: wives, girlfriends, princesses. The poems in this collection ask what is between the lines of a fairy tale? What is women’s desire in the domestic sphere? What does it mean to love your body and be frightened by it? The book’s opening poem has us dive deep into a fairytale like world, but in this world, not all is what it seems:

hide in thickets, breath thickening mist
at  sunrise  or  sunset  or  any  other  liminal
space where you might expect waif-like
femininity to lurk—have you got all that

In the world of Boswell’s book, we get to delve deep into the minds of the speakers. In “Girl-Brained” the speaker’s mind spins out as she contemplates her diagnosis as girl:

You can have hundreds of seizures a day
and not know it.

Symptoms: Late reader. Slow bloomer.
Tends to daydream.

Diagnosis: Girl
or just dumb.

Then in “You Make Me Feel Things I Can’t Tell My Mother” Boswell humorously examines romance and sensuality and what girls are culturally allowed to experience. The speaker asks an unnamed you, “Do you ever get tired / of being a one-man Taylor Swift video?” and then later:

who knows what could happen
on Hello Kitty sheets—
if you asked, I’d let you
touch me through my bra.

In fact, her speakers are always trying to figure out themselves and a world so ready to place them in a box. Always with a gentle touch the speakers beg us to consider their lives, their feelings, their lustful thoughts. In “Train Talk” Boswell explores the late-night thoughts of longing so many people experience:

I only hear trains when I am lonely.
I snip away bits of the night, paper bat wings,
leave them to decompose in slivers
on the bottom corner of a clock’s face.

Later in “Dear Future Daughter” her speaker laments the possible daughter she may never have:

today I worried the geraniums
on the windowsill to an early grave
with all my best intentions
& this is why I will never have you.

Much like the rest of her speakers, this one addresses the experience of womanhood. This speaker grapples with her anxiety and the fear that she may pass that on to a daughter she has yet to conceive. This is an all too familiar feeling for many women.

While this collection lives in the internal realm, it also interrogates the body, the outward shell in which that mind lives. In “I Didn’t Mean to Hate Myself” Boswell’s speaker anxiously connects her sexual and bodily feelings. The poem explores the difficulty some women have feeling sexy to their partner and to their selves. It examines moments when a woman is too far in her own head to experience pleasure:

I never come anymore
even with your fingers            length-deep

inside               I’m not afraid of fraying
so much as                  wearing thin

I’m not thin                 but muscles can be taught
to pull tight finger seams up thighs

Hiding in a Thimble makes big what is often seen as small. The speakers are relatable, flawed, and funny. Their inner monologues reach out to us as if to say they understand, and they’ve been there too. They aren’t afraid to let us in and show them their deeper, hidden voice. The voice that doesn’t feel the need to apologize:

I have one throat that I use only for apologies
the other is bird-bone hollow
and sings.

Stylistically, Boswell aims high with her forms. She is not afraid to play with her craft. Though some of the poems use conventional forms such as the couplet, Boswell modifies these conventions and injects them with a life of their own. She is not afraid to play with the white space which makes the world of the book all the more compelling.

The pages are filled with bunny jokes and puns, beautiful hips and curvy thighs, dark humor and biting lines, budding girls and wicked women. The speakers deal with inner turmoil and sex. They cower and then bite back at anyone who may try to tell them who they can be. The book is self-deprecating but never bitter because “Girl-hearts always become cannibal / if they indulge in self-pity too long.” Boswell’s poetic voice is delicate and sharp—two states of being that seem like they should not go together, but coming from her mind, they work. Her poetry is honest even when that honesty may seem girlish: “I feel like I want to be a post-punk / revivalist but I miss NSYNC too much.” After all, her speakers are often girlish, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s a very real and good thing. That’s a place of power. This poetry collection is an engaging and solid debut from a poet who is not afraid to linger in the deep and often hidden worlds of women.

Hiding in a Thimble, by Roseanna Alice Boswell. HTVN Press, January 2021. £8.99, paper.

Erin Carlyle is a poet currently living in Sacramento, California, though her roots are in the American South. She holds an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University, and her work has been featured in literary magazines such as New South, Bateau Press, and Prairie Schooner. Her chapbook, You Spit Hills and My Body, was published in 2015 with dancing girl press. Her debut full-length collection, Magnolia Canopy Otherworld, is out on Driftwood Press.

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