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Persephone in America

Persephone in America

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Alison Townsend


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
6 x 9

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry


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About the Book

In Persephone in America, Alison Townsend deftly weaves autobiography with myth in this reinvention of the tale of Demeter and Persephone as seen from the modern woman’s perspective. Fraught with emotional honesty, this captivating collection of lyrical and narrative poems chronicles the struggles of the figurative Persephone in three parts—the abduction, descent to the underworld, and return. Townsend turns a shrewd eye to her own experiences, as well as to the lives of other women, to offer an unflinching yet deeply compassionate exploration of such themes as girlhood and the vulnerability of the motherless; the demons of depression, addiction, and abuse; as well as passion, aging, and celebration of the natural world.

Although the poems traverse dark emotional territory at times, the picture that emerges ultimately is one of revelation and wisdom. Persephone in America is above all a journey of the soul, following the narrator as she explores what it means to be a woman in America, at times descending into darkness, only to emerge into redemption and realize “time’s sweet and invincible secret—that everything repeats—and we watch it.” Townsend’s candid portrait of female loss and discovery seeks to illuminate the truths inherent in myth, and the awakenings that hide in our darkest moments.

Persephone, Pretending

(Madison, Wisconsin)

When the news says that the girl

who had been missing almost four days,

only to be found in a marshy area

at the edge of our medium-sized city,

was faking it all along, I wondered

what made her do it. I'd seen

her face—bright smile, dark eyes—

on a flier masking-taped to a pillar

at the airport the week before,

felt the involuntary frisson

of the curious, then only fear

at the thought of a girl abducted

in this place once voted

"America's most livable city."

She must have wanted

something she couldn't name,

that good girl with good grades

who looks like so many girls

in my own classes, but who keeps

changing her story. It happened

here; no, it happened there; no,

I really just wanted to be alone.

Then she turns her face away,

tired of telling her tale,

not sure what to make up next

or where invention will take her.

“Fictitious victimization disorder,”

Time magazine claims, but I wonder

what else, imagining her in the marsh,

cold, unrepentant, powerless, her mind

gone muddy with lack of sleep,

no way out of this lie she almost

believes, or the lies ahead,

nothing but memory of the rope,

duct tape, cough medicine,

and knife she bought at the PDQ

with her own cash, wanting

to be taken by someone so badly,

she takes us, she does it to herself.


Alison Townsendis an associate professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. She is the author of And Still the Music, What the Body Knows, and The Blue Dress: Poems and Prose Poems.


“By constructing a new mythos about America’s life and soul, Alison Townsend portrays a renewal so abundant it becomes harder to renounce than embrace. Here, even the steps of a mini-skirted girl in a shopping mall resonate with ‘the great and ordinary mystery of being mortal.’ These poems are expansive yet tightly focused; unsentimental yet verdant.

They make you want to live the mystery.”—Sue William Silverman, author of Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You