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“We like to say, that in spring, you rose,” Christine Butterworth-McDermott writes of Evelyn Nesbit, “from a city of coal and ash / American-made, transformed… our girl our dream.” With the utmost care in these nimble, transformative verses, Butterworth-McDermott offers us a vision of the American project through the (unfortunately timely, and fortunately timeless) reinvention of a woman so voraciously consumed, dissected by the public. But Butterworth-McDermott’s vision of Nesbit in these all-consuming poems is one of constant and important reinvention, of both self and society. Butterworth-McDermott places herself — and us! — alongside Nesbit so that together they can realize we are capable of rising from the ash because “all things resurface,” and we should “take satisfaction in the knowledge.”
In these poems, Butterworth-McDermott undoes the red velvet cloaks, rolls up the bear rugs, and dismantles the swings that made the child model, Evelyn Nesbit, famous. We see past the blinding lights of Stanford White’s photography bulbs to Evelyn as a young girl trapped in a system of nightmarish power. Telling her story through the lens of famous figures that include Persephone, Little Red Riding Hood, and Scheherazade, Evelyn As connects a long line of nightmarish narratives together. In the process, Butterworth-McDermott’s poems slash through centuries of female objectification.
Evelyn As is a timely and timeless tale told by a speaker who weaves myth and fairytale to retrace the many forked paths of Nesbit’s life. This collection offers a moving apology to a girl who lost her girlhood to the overindulgence of many adults around her. In portrait after portrait, Butterworth-McDermott documents Nesbit’s early life in searing detail, moving the poet’s sympathy and ire and her desire to unwind the past. As she writes in the book’s incantatory final line: “may everything done be undone.”
About the Author:
Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cimarron, The Normal School, River Styx, Sliver of Stone, and Southeast Review, among others. She is the author of Tales on Tales: Sestinas (2010), Woods & Water, Wolves & Women (2012), as well as the founder and co-editor of the online journal, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. Her full-length collection about chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, Evelyn As (Fomite), and a chapbook, All Breathing Heartbreak (Dancing Girl Press), will be published in 2019.
Review by Joy Clark on The Arkansas International
Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s Evelyn As is a vivid, poetic account of the early life and career of late 19th and early 20th Century chorus girl, artists’ model, and actress Evelyn Nesbit. These dynamic, fraught, and textural poems provide a stunning and heartbreaking portrait of a life of stardom, violence, scandal, and survival, weaving together everything from the Persephone myth and Little Red Riding Hood to Rapunzel and Snow White—not to mention also gaze theory, the sometimes (wildly complicated) transformative power of art, and the roles we all play both willingly and un-. At its heart, Evelyn As is a compelling, gripping, and tragic blockbuster of a book, simultaneously cinematic, awe inspiring, and crushing.