I’m delighted to share the blurbs for my forthcoming chapbook Men and Their Whims from WK Pressman. From my creative dissertation on the suffragist, lecturer, and poet Matilda Fletcher (1842-1909), Men and Their Whims explores the relationship between Matilda and her younger brother, Geo. Geo served in the Illinois infantry during the Civil War, but his tour was brief due to an illness he contracted that left him partially deaf. He later married and had children, but his marriage was unstable, in part because he preferred the company of men and drink. Geo was charged with murder in 1905 and sentenced to life in the state prison in Joliet, IL. Matilda writes that Geo was jumped at a saloon. Somehow Spencer Post, one of the men involved and a friend of Geo’s, was stabbed. The injury hit Post’s femoral artery. He bled to death. Between 1905 and 1909, Matilda battled the Illinois court for Geo’s freedom, a task that culminated in the publication of her third book and her early death in Rockford, Illinois. Men and Their Whims ponders Geo’s relationships and the circumstances that lead to the charge of murder.
I had the chance to meet William Reichard, author of Sin Eater and This Brightness and editor of American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice,
when he was a visiting poet at UNL. I taught his book This Brightness in my introduction to poetry workshop the semester he visited. We had great discussions over his poems, especially all the fabulous poems about cats. I personally adored his Whitman poems in the fourth section of This Brightness. I’ve also read and enjoyed reading your book How To. Here’s Bill:
In Men and Their Whims, Laura Madeline Wiseman digs deep into the lives of 19th century lecturer and poet Matilda Fletcher and her brother, George W. Felts. Borrowing from the official record and adding to it her own powerful voice, Wiseman uncovers two equally important manifestations of history: the stories and anecdotes that comprise the public record, and the quiet moments and intimate details between these siblings that comprise a largely invisible, but no less urgent, private history. The poems are filled with well-researched facts, public figures such as Walt Whitman and Ulysses S. Grant, and the upheaval and aftermath of the Civil War. Yet, they retain a level of detail and candor not often found in any history book. Matilda’s great strength, her sense of ethics and empathy, come to life as she first campaigns for Grant, and later attempts to free her brother from an unfair imprisonment. Wiseman also gives voice to George W. Felts, Matilda’s brother, about whom little is known. He was a Civil War veteran, he lost his hearing to cannon fire and to measles, and he was convicted of killing a man who may have been his lover. Wiseman quietly mines the few facts of George’s life to create a complex figure, a man physically and spiritually wounded, a man who loved other men in an age when such behavior was criminal, and a man robbed of his freedom because he could not hear and did not know what charges were leveled against him. If history has traditionally been written by the “victors,” then Laura Madeline Wiseman is working to counter this injustice, giving voice to the common, the silent, the invisible.
I had the opportunity to talk more Kristina Marie Darling earlier this year when I interviwed her in my blog feature on the chapbook. Beyond her several chapbooks, she’s the author of Petrarchan and Melancholia (An Essay) and editor of Noctuary Press. Here’s Kristina:
Laura Madeline Wiseman’s new collection, Men and their Whims, offers readers a thought-provoking relationship between form and content. Evocative vignettes of Civil War love, loss, and trauma are presented in beautifully crafted couplets, tercets, and prose passages. Within these pristinely wrought historical portraits, Wiseman gives us with a poignant fragmentation of meaning, calling our attention to the inherent instability of history, narrative, and collective memory.
Finally, Lucy Adkins is a poet and writer I met at one of the local reading series here in Nebraska, I interviewed her about her chapbook One Shinning Life: Addie Finch, Farmwife,
and I was also fortunate to collection two of her poems in the anthology Women Write Resistance: Poets Fight Gender Violence. Lucy has recently released the co-author book Writing in Community. Here’s Lucy:
Laura Madeline Wiseman is a poet of great courage and intelligence; and in this remarkable new book, she invites us to pass through a window to a time during and around the Civil War, when the machinery of death touched almost everyone. Against this backdrop and working with the subjects of forbidden love, lost love, betrayal, and grief, she writes poems which are haunting and powerful, sometimes heartbreaking and always truthful. These are poems of the human spirit, written with a clear eye and a compassionate heart.
Thank you William, Lucy, and Kristina! I’m so very much looking forward to seeing this chapbook in print.