We’ll skip the boring part about how I don’t usually read poetry and yadda yadda but this one is an exception blah blah, OK? I’ve had this on my to-read list for a while—in addition to the intriguing title, Amanda Lovelace is asexual (or ace-spec), so that increased my interest. Then one of my IRL friends read and highly recommended it, so I borrowed a copy, and here I am. Reading poetry!
If I have to try summing it up, The Princess Saves Herself in this One is about resilience. It’s prefaced with a long list of trigger warnings and content notes, including abuse, self-harm, and suicide. Lovelace’s poetry often has a staggering beauty to the way she lays out her words, both visually on the page and mentally in the reader’s mind. I can’t speak to the way poetry—both reading it and writing it—might itself be healing, but it certainly is an act of resistance, and therefore of resilience. Rather than running from the tragedy or difficulty, Lovelace confronts it head-on. She names it, like the way Dumbledore never hesitates to name Voldemort rather than hide behind a euphemism.
I can’t personally relate to a lot of the experiences chronicled herein, but I do identify with the notion of being bookmad. I know what it’s like to seek solace and refuge in stories, to befriend characters, transport oneself to these foreign lands, and, yes, wield words as weapons against those who might mean you harm. This book, although a loose collection of poems, is not so much poetry as it is snippets of identity. Lovelace picks apart the narratives we construct, or which are constructed for us: you menstruate and therefore…; you’re a woman and therefore…; I love you and therefore…; we are together and therefore…. She asks us to question what we’ve been taught, to look the lies in our lives in the eye and ask if we cannot do better. There is power in words, and I think poetry is positioned quite well to remind us of this.
I flagged so many of these poems with sticky notes before returning this book to my friend. I wanted to mark out the ones that resonated with me, whether for reasons of experience, identity, or simply because I liked how they were constructed or made me feel. Lovelace offers hope while simultaneously refusing to simplify; she acknowledges the darkest complexities of our lives. For example, she chronicles an abusive, alcoholic mother and then later describes her feelings of loss as that same mother succumbs to cancer. We are such paradoxical creatures, sometimes, and our feelings don’t always make sense.
That’s why The Princess Saves Herself in this One works for me. It doesn’t revel or wallow, but it validates and accepts. It says you’re going to have shit days, and good days, and days in between. But it reminds us that you are ultimately the narrative of your own making. You don’t have to be strong always, but you can be strong sometimes. Find the words that make that work for you. It might not be poetry—certainly isn’t in my case—but it will be something.