Hiding in a Thimble by Roseanna Alice Boswell
HVTN Press, February 2021
65 pages – poetry
If fairytales are for children, why are grown women so often associated with their fragile darkness instead? There is as much darkness in the forest or the wide searching eyes of a rabbit as there is in dim parking lots, sunbaked swimming pools, and even retail dressing rooms. There is darkness in how we relate to our bodies, in how we present ourselves to the world, and what happens when the world does not agree with our presentation. As women we invite darkness as much as we crave being known, seen, and heard. All these understandings and more are dissected, torn apart, reassembled and reimagined in Roseanna Alice Boswell’s stunning poetry collection debut, Hiding in a Thimble.
Boswell’s writing is confident even when the subjects in these poems are uncertain of themselves, frightened by their own power, or the power inflicted upon them. The animal imagery throughout—particularly that of bunnies and rabbits—gives the collection a wonderful through-line to its feminist message: that we girls, dumb and beautiful and soft, are always prey to something no matter how quick or wild we proclaim to be. Something lurks, assumes, and needs our beauty and our self-esteem. What Boswell seems to struggle with is the concept of being wild (as a bunny is wild animal) yet always forced into domesticity and patriarchal expectation. This is most apparent in “Bunny Fables,” an early poem in the collection that introduces readers to the dangers of being beautiful, soft, and unassuming:
If a bunny runs away from a fox in the woods/
and is caught/
will be delicious/
A bunny is food for something else, frivolous in its cuteness. Yet Boswell wants us to consider the bunny’s bravery, especially when so many stories have focused on the clever fox instead. The bunny is brave, she tells us, yet her death always remains something to remind us about the foolishness of cute prey animals that play at being predators.
Within all of this animal imagery and fairytale remembrances that connect us to childhood (such as “Queen Anne’s Lace plates/for any fairy looking for a hearty meal”), lingers the uncomfortable bind of wanting domesticity yet proclaiming it is a feminist choice to want it. The question is: why are women judged for their choices, at all, particularly the women who are “soft—” the women whose bodies signal motherhood and submission to others? Why do we associate fat bodies with motherhood, and why are they simply not allowed to exist apart from that single assessment?
The contemplation of fat bodies and how the world reads them is very apparent within this collection, as the poet struggles to be proud and defiant while also weathering societal norms when it comes to a female body. What is impressive about this collection in particular is the way Boswell digs into the “every body is a beach body!” positive energy sisterhood feminism that has become the norm on social media. For many, feminism is simply “Girl Power.” For many, feminism has been defanged and repackaged only for the very thin and the very wealthy.
In Boswell’s world, this is not the case. In “SNIP/SLIDE,” the narrator remembers the summer she realized her mother was ashamed of her daughter’s body, after refusing to buy her a strawberry themed two-piece swimsuit. While spending a day at the pool fed up and uncomfortable in her green one-piece, disgusted by her appearance as a “watermelon,” the narrator cuts up the suit in the dressing room to admire herself. These defiant acts of bravery are repeated throughout the collection, full of Riot Grll feminist rage—this desire to own one’s girlish looks, one’s fat body, and one’s own sexuality without being told who it is for.
Hiding in a Thimble also succeeds in its interrogation of how women celebrate nostalgia. For many, but especially for those of a generation that was raised on the twenty-four hour news cycle, nostalgia is filtered through capitalism; toys, games, make up, and fashion are often things that define a young woman’s life. A wandering manifestation of millennial anxiety filters into volume two of the collection, most evident in self-depreciating poems examining nostalgia for a time period that is not yet determined. Poems like “Pinterest is for Dog Sweaters and Sad People” and “I’ve Never Known What to Call 2002 Nostalgia” clearly establish a connection with the aesthetics of a meaningful childhood that was completely mediated by sparkling capitalism—yet it was still fun and meaningful! Boswell creates an interesting opening for Millennial poets to come forward with the failings of their simultaneous digital and analog childhood, one that was determined to influence their identities through marketplace feminism, promising young girls equality in futuristic pastel colors and American Idol contestants.
As a modern feminist poet, Boswell is determined to break down these confusing and complicated intersections. She brings lessons of empowerment into her adult life while fully recognizing the harm nostalgia causes. Yet Pinterest has a mood board for that early 2000s aesthetic she loves, mood boards that are harmless when filtered through a wry adult’s embarrassed understanding. These poems extend a hand to women who feel chagrined by their past. An adult who in turn feels claustrophobic in a world that continuously chastises her for loving simple, cute things while also struggling to pay for them. The notion of fairytale softness permeates many expectations women have of themselves and their peers. We should no longer appreciate lip gloss or strawberry-scented glitter rollers. That sort of ironic femininity is what is preventing an entire generation from owning a home or paying off their student loan debt. Why do things that make you feel good when you should be working?
It is bad enough to agonize over the mistakes of your generation and wonder where one falls in line with said mistakes, but it is quite another thing to be a dreaming silly heart of a woman living in a world that seems determined to spew criticism and demands perfection.
Poems like “Wicked Woman Fables,” “Funny Girl Talks,” and “Mammal” all focus on the inherent frustration of being a woman, the inherent frustration in being a feminist, knowing the things that you love can also be tools of your own oppression. The desire for a fairytale romance and this intersection of feminist beliefs is most apparent in “Dovetails:”
it’s a supporting role but I perform it/
exceptionally well—I know how to wear virtue
best in lightly suppressed concern lines/
& my mouth always kisses to console.
Toward the end of the collection, the bunny reappears, gentle and determined not to cause trouble. Yet there is a hint of defiance within this last mention (“petal pink like clitoris), language that hints at some humor and power obfuscated by a tender exterior. The rabbit is still a wild animal, after all. Though it is shy, flighty, and unassuming. A woman is still a feminist even if she yearns for domesticity, because what she desires is love and acceptance based on her own autonomy. This desire to hide away our feelings, to change our bodies, to be more normal and perfect is so universally acknowledged in these poems. So much so that by the end of the collection there is a catharsis, uncertain though it is, but satisfying nonetheless. Boswell seems to look forward while knowing there are pieces of her, “bones” that lie within, pointing to certain destinies. However, much like a rabbit flitting into the trees, she aims to veer off course, rebellious against ordinary expectation.
Elena M. Aponte is a writer and editor based in Michigan. She admires the brutal honesty of both musicians and young children. Whenever she plays DnD, she’s always a Ranger. She is also a current MFA student in fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can find her on Twitter @PalanteAponte