Sunday, January 10, 2016

Acts of Balance by Nancy Means Wright

Published by Finishing Line Press

Reviewed by Carol Smallwood

Vermont writer Nancy Means Wright is the author of seventeen books and has had dozens of poems published in magazines and anthologies such as Bellingham Review and St. Martin’s Press. The 18th-century feminist Mary Wollstoncraft is no stranger to her as she has published a mystery series based on her life. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men.

In her third chapbook,  Acts of Balance, the poet alternates chronologically the voices of the historical Mary Wollstonecraft and a fictional contemporary farmwoman, Fay. For each poem, she’s included a short preface with their name (Mary or Fay), date, and their current concern.

Most of the poems have a work by the fictional contemporary Fay opposite one by Mary Wollstonecraft such as:

Fay Drops in on an Apple Doctor
   Something is growing inside Fay’s breast. Vermont, 1994

Fresh cheeked and white-haired,
he leans over my bare breast
and we talk poems.

Admittedly, he writes a little,
A Carlos Williams. Last week
the poem described an aunt who
died—it was pancreatic cancer.

Breasting the Flood
   Mary gives birth to Fanny. Le Harve, 1794.

When my cat purrs
the fresh stream rushes

under the frail bridge,
the earth rumbles

in the rub of wind;
green twigs snap.

The attractive chapbook’s design is a study balance it self with red endpapers, red ribbon tie, red cardinal bird on the cover. The first poem is by Fay in 1957; the last poem is by Fay, 2012.

The dialogue between the women divided by time and place shows a unity between the two lives, a sharing that women too often do not see among themselves whether they are contemporaries or not. We are in the Third Wave of the Women’s Movement but many women do not realize it which I suspect Mary Woolstonecraft would have understand very well; Wollstonecraft died when she was thirty-eight, shortly after giving birth to her second daughter. I would have enjoyed an introduction by the poet on how she came to write this memorable work.


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