The Education of a Girl by Heather Cadenhead (a review)

The Education of a  Girl
by Heather Cadenhead
Maverick Duck Press, 2011
Paperback, $5.00

“This wild evil–a woman
who wants to be transformed . . . “

The Education of a Girl, Heather Cadenhead’s second chapbook of poetry, is a search for independence. Self-aware, full of yearning, the poems in this collection examine a woman’s place in society and her straining against that place. The tone of the chapbook is reminiscent of The Awakening by Kate Chopin or To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

“Dislocated” is the opening poem, introducing the reader to the inward struggle: “At the edge of a precipice, / we weigh the importance of things . . .”. The “we” in this poem seems to speak to women in general rather than a couple in specific; we enter a world where “we were taught to speak / and then to understand.” There is risk in understanding–“We estimate / what is this going to cost us.” The risk is deemed worth taking, and the collection plunges forward.

“Mother Tongue” is my favorite poem in this chapbook. Here the author seeks to regain control of her body by growing her hair in a long braid, “a pleat / to measure years,” after the helplessness of experiencing a miscarriage.” Again the protagonist of these poems struggles to speak; her “throat fills up / with unsaid jealousies.” And when they do break free, it is “in a language no one else speaks.” 

Throughout these poems, the protagonist asserts herself–first claiming joy (“Metamorphosis”) and her own body (“We Left Our Souls Ajar”), then speaking “a language / purer than a mouth, confessing . . .”, then, finally, “petals of  / ignorance [fall] / to the ground, unnoticed.” It is interesting to note that the independence developing thorough these poems goes “unnoticed” in the end; relegating the struggle to the inward realm, rather than society as a whole. These sensitive, deeply-felt poems form a cohesive whole that causes the reader to care about and identify with the protagonist, learning as she learns.

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