Review by Claire Keyes

by Penelope Scambly Schott

WordTech Communications LLC
P.O. Box 541106
Cincinnati, OH 45254-1106
ISBN# 978-1933456683, 2007
140pp., paper. $17


In front of the State House in Boston, Massachusetts, a statue of Anne Hutchinson looks out over the Boston Common. Erected in 1922, the statue presents the figure of a 17th century Puritan woman who was reviled by Governor Winthrop and others in power, tried for heresy and banished from the Commonwealth in 1638. In 1987, Governor Michael Dukakis officially pardoned Anne Hutchinson and as recently as 2005, the statue was officially dedicated. Massachusetts embraced the 17th century firebrand. In doing so, the people of Massachusetts set forth Anne Hutchinson as an integral part of their heritage: a rebel, a thinker, a spiritual adventurer, a woman perhaps ahead of her time.

Hutchinson may have been banished, but what she stood for--the right of the individual to speak against authority--needs to be embraced over and over again lest we forget its importance. In the conformist Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne Hutchinson was a non-conformist. Her issues centered upon religious doctrine and are of little importance anymore except to religious historians. Readers of Penelope Scambly Schott's A is for Anne, a narrative poem of Hutchinson's life, will get a clear sense of those issues. More importantly, they will get an intimate look at the nature of this early American dissident in the form of poetry.
Schott has done her homework and her research is impeccable. Out of the matrix of her materials (fully documented in her appendix), she gives us what poems do best: the emotional life of this significant woman. Many of the poems employ the language of their source materials: court records, journals, letters; some are purely lyrical, as is "Freedom in the New World":


This morning a lynx
slinks past our door, and a bear

in the root cellar sleeps, musk
skunk-thick, masking

the scent of rotting apples. I know
that animals do not have souls,

not even this bear with her cubs;
still I prop the root cellar door

in order not to trap her.

Later among berry bushes,
she harvests with dexterous tongue;

how mobile her shining black lips.

Surrounded by truly wild animals, Anne Hutchinson does not shrink back in fear, but accommodates them. Not wishing to trap the bear, she "prop{s} the root cellar door / open..." Schott presents Hutchinson as being at one in the natural world and admiring of the bear's "shining black lips." Had the bear attacked one of Hutchinson's fifteen children, the reaction might have been different, but there is no sense of such an encounter in this volume.
Aside from Hutchinson's, a few other voices enter the narrative, for instance, Governor Winthrop's. With his sense of responsibility for the colony as a whole, he feels he can't afford dissidence and wonders, "Why does Mister Hutchinson fail to control his wife?" Schott helps us see that Anne Hutchinson disturbed the powers-that-be as much by her womanhood as by her religious beliefs. The poet Anne Bradstreet also weighs in and admits that Anne Hutchinson "frightens me, this pious scholar I once so greatly admired." Even though she confesses her fears to her diary, Bradstreet identifies with Anne Hutchinson: "This night so damp and my fingers cramped; / how women must pay for their brains." (p.74)
A is for Anne relies to a certain extent, on the motif of the Hornbook, an old technique for teaching children their letters as recognizable forms. This gives rise to a series of poems sprinkled through the book which depend upon metaphor. Such a poem begins: "Q is for question. The perfect circle / dragging its damnable tail of doubt." The remainder of this short poem involves Hutchinson’s experience sitting with a woman going through labor. When the woman questions her, "Will I go to hell?" Anne Hutchinson silently condemns those ministers "who teach her fear." Openly, she tells the woman, "It is love that will save us."
If you are interested in the conflicts that gave shape to this country we call America, read this book. If you like such history in varied and pleasing poetic forms, greater reason to read this book. If you thirst for stories that show human endurance in trials of great extremity, this book will entice you and ultimately satisfy you. And if Anne Hutchinson could look out over the Boston Common today, she might find a place and a people more congenial to her temperament. At least, I'd like to think so.



Claire Keyes , born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, never learned about Anne Hutchinson in her early education.  Anyone non-Catholic was suspect. Fortunately, she's overcome her upbringing except for the great discipline of her parochial schooling.  The author of The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich, Keyes takes special pleasure in the achievements of women.  Her reviews have appeared in Calyx, The Women's Review of Books, The Georgia Review and elsewhere.


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