As I Said: A Dissent

  • Review
By – July 3, 2023

In her first full-length poet­ry col­lec­tion, Abby Minor’s provoca­tive, stream-of-con­scious­ness poems explore the past and present treat­ment of Amer­i­can women and their right to bod­i­ly auton­o­my. Divid­ed into four the­mat­ic sec­tions, the book dis­cuss­es assump­tions about women and clash­es with rad­i­cal pro-life stances. A series of research-based poems then con­sid­ers the life, arrest, and death of the noto­ri­ous Ann Lohman (also known as Madame Restell), who pro­vid­ed abor­tions, con­tra­cep­tives, and oth­er repro­duc­tive ser­vices” in Man­hat­tan dur­ing the mid-1800s. 

Minor uses a doc­u­men­tary-style poet­ics, which she labels as a film noir, to describe Lohman as a shiny giant­ess / and a great con­duc­tor” of abor­tion access for women in New York. The poet also details Lohman’s sui­cide and the des­per­a­tion she felt toward the end of her life, hav­ing been deemed a wicked woman by soci­ety. Minor includes state­ments and ques­tions from inter­views with Lohman about female virtue and men’s fear of women being in con­trol of their bod­ies. The speak­er of these poems is very emo­tion­al­ly con­nect­ed to Lohman, inspired by her brav­ery and fem­i­nism dur­ing a trou­bling time — which Minor con­nects to America’s trau­mat­ic present. 

In addi­tion to com­men­tary and facts about Lohman, Minor’s prose poems med­i­tate on haunt­ing con­tem­po­rary issues sur­round­ing abor­tion: Then there was the emi­nent gyne­col­o­gist say­ing, Shall the West and South be filled by our own chil­dren or by those of aliens? This is a ques­tion our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future des­tiny of the nation.” Minor com­pares this to one nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry reformer’s belief that white women hav­ing abor­tions was akin to Race Sui­cide, white lady’s killing all the chil­dren she’s not having.” 

Minor cre­ative­ly reveals six scenes from Lohman’s tri­al in 1847, not­ing how whole­sale and retail agents across Amer­i­ca want­ed to teach women about the per­ils and ter­rors of an inva­sion of the course of nature.” The dark and at times weird­ly humor­ous word choice demon­strates a mis­trust of women, as well as a lack of under­stand­ing about women’s bod­ies and the impact of child­bear­ing. In these tri­al poems, Minor writes about a woman named Maria Bod­ine, who details her abor­tion after hav­ing rela­tions with her boss. The vic­tim-blam­ing ensues: 

Bodine’s lawyers called

Lohman the most terrible

being ever born & Lohman’s

lawyers called Bod­ine as foul,

cor­rupt, loath­some, guilty a

thing as ever pol­lut­ed God’s

blessed earth by her pestilential

pres­ence. The beau/​boss Mr.

Cook was nev­er called

to court …

Minor’s poems move from prose to lyric through­out the book; both styles are direct yet mean­der­ing. She con­fronts the con­cerns of Lohman and her clients head-on, inter­pret­ing their expe­ri­ence as a sto­ry about arrange­ments / of time.” Through­out the book, Minor calls atten­tion to the hor­ri­fy­ing and embar­rass­ing irony that women in Amer­i­ca are still deal­ing with loss of bod­i­ly auton­o­my about a hun­dred and thir­ty eight years after the Madame’s death.” The speak­er walks around Cen­tral Park and imag­ines Lohman’s veil over the city. She assures her­self that Lohman was good for New York, despite her neg­a­tive rep­u­ta­tion: No dead man will catch me stoop­ing / to prove that she was good.” 

Toward the end of the col­lec­tion, Minor’s poems become more auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, with sto­ries of fam­i­ly his­to­ry and frag­ments of con­ver­sa­tion. She describes her Yid­dish-speak­ing grand­moth­er grow­ing up amid a back­drop of mem­o­rable events: She was thir­teen in the same year that nov­el Bad Girl was pub­lished, in which the part of Man­hat­tan where the pro­tag­o­nist goes to get an abor­tion is pic­tured as a place where gos­sip­ing uncorset­ed Jew­ess­es’ hang out on the stoops; in which the vil­lain is a fat Jew­ess who’s had eleven abor­tions, who wears a giant dia­mond ring … ” 

The speak­er, her grand­moth­er, and her moth­er — named Abi­gail, Ruth, and Judith, respec­tive­ly — recall bib­li­cal women. While they all sup­port each oth­er through trau­ma, the two old­er gen­er­a­tions have a par­tic­u­lar abil­i­ty to empathize giv­en their longer his­to­ries in Amer­i­ca. Ulti­mate­ly, the col­lec­tion ends with a dis­play of sup­port and laugh­ter among the women, who will always have each oth­er, despite everything.

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

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