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Reviewed by Rich Follett for Readers' Favorite
In Greek mythology, Antigone is the quintessential tortured woman of strength - born of incest, condemned to die for the act of burying her dead brother’s body against the wishes of her uncle King Creon, and doomed to be remembered solely in terms of the curse that defined her life. Marie Slaight’s The Antigone Poems offers a dark, probing examination of the shadows of their namesake’s curse -- shadows which loom over women even today. Images of isolation, helplessness, death, blood, daemons, and a host of other archetypal afflictions pervade this stark, masterful collection. None of the poems bears a title but the lines are as distinct as if each were a fingerprint left in blood at the scene of an unspeakable crime: “We live our lives/the instant between life and death.”
Mask-like, immutable illustrations by the late Terrence Tasker (1947 - 1992), to whose memory this collection is dedicated, stare accusingly from random pages, bearing anguished witness to the psychic wounding encompassed by the verses and providing a perfect contrapuntal tension as Slaight’s tragic testimonial unfolds. The overall effect is riveting in the same way that one cannot look away from a car crash - death is omnipresent but the infinite number of possible manifestations defies augury. In the end, we can only watch in abject terror and wait for the toll to reveal itself.
As with all works of tragedy, catharsis is key; we keep reading because we do not want to accept that the situation is hopeless and because the absolute nature of the chaos before us makes our own human condition seem comparatively well-ordered and temporarily manageable. Slaight herself proclaims, in a parting gesture: “I wanted everything. To live all lives, all deaths, encompass all women. To smash every confine.” Antigone would have been proud.