Last night coming home from a walk, I caught a quick glimpse of a praying mantis, alert, slowing moving its triangular head, scanning the twilight sky. Caught quickly in a photograph, it looked like a splash of citron and lime against a black porch railing, the last bit of color as the houses across the street were vanishing into the dark.
Summer seemed so expansive—it began with Poetry by the Sea (an amazing conference you can read about here and here) and ended with cornfields and crows and constellations shining bright against the prairie sky.
Summer’s all but gone, though you might not know it here in Baltimore where it’s upward of ninety degrees. Whatever. As Amazon Prime video reminds me, fall has officially arrived and for most of us that means re-entry—putting flip flops and free time aside for the more-order bound routines of the classroom or work place. It’s not an easy shift. So I was glad to get a cheerful text from my starting-senior-year-in-college daughter: a jpg of a Cold-War era American Girl doll with a winky-face emoticon.
Dolls are charming, comforting, and creepy, depending on your view—they are fascinating, frozen figures, compelling images on which we project our deepest fears and fantasies. This is the premise of Kim Bridgford’s DOLL (Main Street Rag, 2014), a collection where childhood toys and inflatable companions illuminate truths we prefer to veil.
Bridgford’s eight books shine with a fierce intelligence and compassionate, feminist vision (2012’s Bully Pulpit explores the phenomenon of mobbing as played out in history, literature, film, and the contemporary worlds of social media and academia). Bridgford has always excelled at breathing new life into traditional forms, and as poet Terri Witek notes, her newest book, Human Interest (White Violet Press), “demands that we re-think poetic forms as more than heritage, challenge, or trap: they are Bridgford’s own strong bones stood up hard against a seriously skewed world.”
Though her poems show a special empathy for the lives and work of literary heroines (Bishop, Angelou, Dickinson, and Plath among them) and excels in bringing to life canonical characters from myth and fairy tale, Bridgford is a keen follower of popular culture, bringing an equally discerning eye to the world of sports, science fiction, and film.
Here, for example, is a replicant in a moment of crisis that resonates with anyone who’s felt their identity slipping away. It speaks to the selves we miss, the selves we want to hold onto while we face up and meet each day’s demands.
INFLATABLE DOLL HAS A MOMENT OF CRISIS WHILE WATCHING BLADE RUNNER
One evening, on the couch, she realized this:
She did not know her past, that she framed life
Through moments, one by one. In plastic grief
She knew she was the “pleasure model,” Pris.
How live outside this shape and this intention,
Become one’s own, not someone else’s invention?
Where were her photographs? Her memories? Family tree?
How would she find her genealogy?
She couldn’t ask him, but she trembled now.
She knew how the adopted craved to know
The who-they-were before the who-they-are.
Who made her who she is? Who was her maker?
Now certain words made sense—an order, a factory.
But not enough to quell, be satisfactory.
Kim Bridgford is the director of Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. As the editor of Mezzo Cammin, she founded The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. Bridgford is the author of nine books of poetry, including Human Interest (White Violet, 2016).