When I first began Tania Pryputniewicz’ poetry collection, November Butterfly, I could not tell exactly what I was reading. After about ten pages I understood that this is a collection of poems attempting to understand women from history and fantasy. She casts herself so well in the role of interpreter that it is difficult to separate what is fact and what is fiction, but this is the beauty of her poetry. It has the power to entrance the reader into believing that they have come to understand why Marilyn let herself go even though she “had it all” and why Guinevere stayed with King Arthur even though she loved another. Every poem is about a woman, but every woman was affected by a man. Whether through marriage, rape, or love, women throughout time cannot escape men. Simultaneously, these poems are about how women assert themselves, despite the constraints that society has placed on them.
If you look back at mid-century medieval poetry, you will notice one aspect missing from almost every poem: the voice of the woman. Women are often looked at from afar, admired, or remembered, but their opinion is never heard. History books are also the story of men while women’s lives are only catalysts. The modern day equivalent of this is women in movies who are meant to be admired and pursued by men. November Butterfly gives a voice to these women. Pryputniewicz’ depiction of Marilyn Monroe shows her as “naked and blind like a hummingbird,” but enticed and eventually destroyed by the male gaze:
strangers glanced twice
without knowing why – and, mother
complained, I came to crave
that staring, tongue feather-tipped
for wicking nectar. No girl sets out
to die, but that last cold night, I could neither
shake my slumber nor raise my heartbeat,
Marilyn is described as the tragic young girl that she always was. One who sought fame, only to have it destroy her. Pryputniewicz does an amazing job of depicting this fragile woman without casting blame onto her. She made choices—some may say bad choices—but it is the society she lived in that destroyed her. A society that valued women only for what their beauty could buy.
Pryputniewicz’ Guinevere is opinionated and strong compared to Marilyn and is a direct contrast to the helpless heroine she is in medieval poetry. In “Guinevere Sets the Record Straight,” Guinevere informs the audience that judges her:
Chivalry, as you know it, was in effect dead
before it began…
Stop hiding from the rest of your life
by trying to understand mine. Burn blue,
undefiled, amid the asters of stars.
Her life was not perfection or constriction. Guinevere lived the life of a queen, but she also had many boundaries to happiness. The image of the perfect knight in shining armor who saves the dazzling princess is not accurate, but neither is the one of the princess locked alone in a tower. Pryputniewicz shows that Guinevere had power. She had to be clever about how she wielded this power, but she still held power. This is shown through another poem, “The Corridor,” in which Guinevere has a moment alone with her mother:
In court we divide up duties,
crown one sex and not the other
but mother says dwell not on it,
power has many homes,
Pryputniewicz shows that we should not pity or aspire to be the Marilyns or Guineveres of the world. Guinevere was born stronger, with a mother who taught her how to live in a man’s world. Mothers appear in multiple poems, sometimes as teachers, sometimes as comforters, and sometimes as punishers. Pryputniewicz shows that the bonds between women run deep.
In one of the final poems, “November Butterfly,” Pryputniewicz weaves the individual voices of every single one of the women she writes about together. She writes about the judgmental world of appearances that women exist within through the image of a November Butterfly. She writes that it is “easy to love the sun” but hard to love “tar fissures” or “a butterfly with a frayed wing.” In the same way, it is “easy to love some women” who are “quiet, enchanting” but more difficult to love the messy ones. The speaker has no solution to save these women. Each woman grew up in a different time period, a different culture, and had different personalities. The poet tells this November Butterfly:
I can’t fill out your wing,
but I can look you
in the unblinking amber screen of your eye,
and set you on this leaf.
We are not all born beautiful or without flaws, but we are born with the ability to empathize. As humans, we cannot fix each other, but we can help each other along.
This is Tania’s first published poetry collection, but she has been working on these poems for many years. She began a blog years ago in order to share her poetry and, later, to teach others the power of blogging. In 2010, she collaborated with Robyn Beattie and Stephen Pryputniewicz to create visual poetry readings. She reads her poems and, in the background, the flute plays lightly and images that correspond to the poem move before the audience. For some, poetry may be understood when it is visually presented, and poetry is always more powerful when read aloud. These video versions of the poetry really bring them to life in a different way than simply reading them does. In medieval times, poets, or bards, would recite their poetry accompanied by music. This is the kind of writer that Pryputniewicz is. Most of her poetry is reminiscent of classical ballads, but she is also very interested in modern interpretations on poetry. Her poems range from fantasy to fact and medieval to modern, but they all feel real because she is able to speak to the human heart in every poem she writes.
Recent poetry and prose by Tania Pryputniewicz appeared in print or online at Autumn Sky, Blast Furnace, The Blood Orange Review, Connotation Press, In Her Place, Linebreak, Literary Mama, The Mom Egg, Prairie Wolf Press, Salome Magazine, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Stone Canoe Online, Tiny Lights and Writers and Lovers Café. New work is forthcoming in NonBinary Review, Poetry Flash, and Soundings East. Her debut poetry collection, November Butterfly, was published in November of 2014 by Saddle Road Press.
Her collaborative micro movies feature poetry paired with the photography of Robyn Beattie and the music of Stephen Pryputniewicz; She Dressed in a Hurry (for Lady Diana), Amelia, and Nefertiti Among Us were awarded Juror’s Best of Show at the 2012 2D/3D visual poetry show held at the LH Horton Jr Gallery at San Joaquin Delta College. Other collaborative projects include prose poetry and a series of micro-readings at Perhaps, Maybe with Liz Brennan. (Bio from Tania’s website).