Thursday, 7 February 2008

Be...A Woman

RRP: $28.95 (hardcover)

--What does the promo say?--
"Be...a Woman addresses the question that has been asked for centuries but has never before been more controversial: What defines a woman's beauty? Two women, who have made their livelihoods in the beauty business, provide the most insightful and honest answer: the radiant inner light of a woman in a state of being rather than trying to be.
Breathtaking images of real women combined with inspirational observations about women's inner beauty help the reader make a deeper connection to the power of their own authentic self. This compelling compilation profiles the universal themes of empowerment, resilience, courage, acceptance and the true beauty of womanhood, in all its stages of evolution, through extraordinary, moving portraits.
The Western woman's revolution of today is about returning to our core, quietly without noise. It is about finding balance with nature and consciousness and feeling good in our skin. It is about rediscovering the essence of our inner beauty and honoring it in ourselves and in the delicate connectedness of women around us. Be...a Woman is a spirited collection that will breathe life into its reader's soul. A treasure, Be...a Woman is for every daughter, mother, sister, grandmother, girlfriend, coworker and neighbor, for every woman, young and old."

--My review--
This is real coffee-table stuff. Starting with the superficialities first, it is a really good-looking thing, made and finished to a high standard, printed on good quality paper and furnished with stunning calligraphy and photographs.
In her letter to me, Kim Macgregor explains the purpose of the book: "a mission to empower young girls and women to reduce judgment in themselves and other women , to recognise true beauty and activate their potential to inspire change in the world". Sounds impossible, perhaps - but changing anything really does involve starting with change in yourself. So that part at least is accurate, and the whole summary really does set out some of what I try and do in this blog.
As a poet myself it was difficult if not impossible for me to review this book from a purely emotional perspective. Still, I can but try, and hopefully I manage to review this from both an emotional and a literary standpoint.
Each two-page spread has a photograph of a woman accompanied by a poem to reflect the woman's life, experiences or the expression on her face. Some of the poems are short enough to be haiku-like; others are longer. However, none of the poems extend longer than the two pages, and the vast majority are shorter, so even the most attention-span-challenged person should have no trouble with this.
I am a huge fan of beautiful photography, and Arline Malakian does not disappoint. The portraits of the women are of supreme quality, and although taken in Victorian-style sepia, they unfailingly reflect the strong modernity of the women depicted. Women from all ages, races and walks of life are depicted, making the book a highly visual and sensory experience.
However, I found the accompanying text far more difficult to get to grips with. As someone who attempts to write poetry themselves, ellipses (these things - ...) annoy me hugely as I think writers grossly overestimate the dramatic impact that they have. Less really is more and I prefer to avoid them at all costs. Writing is better if it is understated and ellipses tend to overdramatise and thus remove some of the intended sincerity, which is a great shame. I also felt that some of the writing was hackneyed and cliched in its message - while cliches are often rooted in truth, they are still that: cliches. Saying this, though, I did enjoy some of the poems: mainly the first three, plus the poem "Yourself" (mainly because I think the last line of "Yourself" is a flash of sheer genius that is sadly rarely seen in the rest of the book). If the quality of "Yourself" was reflected in all of the other poems, I have a feeling I would have enjoyed this book far more. On a personal level, the tone very much reminded me of a series I used to read years ago, the highly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series. While the success of this series means that there is a clearly a vast and diverse market who will probably also be attracted to Be..A Woman, it is not something that I am personally attracted to any longer.
I was also slightly disappointed by the "journal entries" at the end of the book, as I was hoping for insights from the photographed women themselves, and their take on the project - not yet more overemotional outpourings from the authors. Having the women who were actually photographed write a little something for the end of the book would have, in my view, endowed this publication with a wider sense of perspective.
However, saying all this, I can see how others would gain plenty from this book in terms of strength, identity and self-confidence. While the style of the writing really isn't "me", I would defy any woman to read this book and gain absolutely nothing from it - even if, like me, your main focus of appreciation is on the photographs.

1 comment:

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