Poet Nicole Cooley, in her introduction to The Doll Collection, makes the connection for readers:
I have always thought that dolls and poems are a natural combination. Ever since I was a child, my dolls were part of my writing, as I arranged them into orphanages with my sister and wrote my own stories and poems about them. Now, I love to bring images of dolls to my poetry workshops for writing exercises.
I am as excited about bringing dolls and poetry together as Cooley seems to be. But she has taken it a step further by bringing dolls into the writing classroom. In the beginning, her students are reluctant to take dolls seriously as a muse for writing. But then she describes how they end up creating “uncanny, strange, frightening, and beautiful images.”
Diane Lockward chose this subject for the first book of her new press, Terrapin Books, and she has edited with great care. Because no poet has more than one poem in the anthology the variety of styles and subjects piques the imagination. I’ve never read an anthology where I felt such excitement at each turn of the page.
My favorite poem in the book—and realize that this is saying a whole heckuva lot because the poems are stunning—is Christopher Citro’s “The Secret Lives of Little Girls.” This is a poem I wish I had written. I’m achingly jealous of it.
The Secret Lives of Little Girls
How loudly you can groan if you just use your eyes.
Children are adept at this, twelve-year-old girls especially.
Alone, high in mountain caves along cliffsides
accessible solely by toeholds and birds of prey,
they deflate and slouch a bit in ease.
At such times they might play jacks or jump a rope,
its woven line slapping the cave roof, freeing
gypsum flowers to flutter down in fragments
over reeking hides and doll parts piled in corners,
a sleeping area of matted glossy magazines,
a fire ring of rolled socks in parti-colored balls,
simple flint implements, a clamshell for stripping pelts,
small animal bones for holding a bow in the hair,
a pompom here and there caked with glitter and mud.
Hidden in the back beyond reach of firelight, a dollhouse—
perfectly split down the center as eggs rarely are—
where the gods live. The mommy god and the daddy god
stand facing each other either side of a four-poster bed,
a cellophane fire in the living room hearth below.
A dining room table set for three, three plates, three napkins,
and cutlery—a clear plastic goblet at each place.
In the daughter chair, an acorn balanced atop an acorn.
A smile scraped into the top one,
presumably by sharpened antler bone.
I’m imagining a little girl’s room as an eagle’s aerie—a difficult-to-reach, glamorous, gritty, dangerous space.
But there are so many other showstoppers. Do you know what a Frozen Charlotte is? Nicole brings up this doll in her introduction, and Susan de Sola’s “Frozen Charlotte” explores this doll/dead girl. Read the book to find out the story behind the doll.
“Doll Heads,” by Richard Garcia, will rip your guts out with its brutal reality.
There is even a poem, written by Susan Elbe, about Colleen Moore’s dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. My own book Doll God might have its roots in that dollhouse. When I was a kid, we used to visit the museum regularly—and each time I refused to leave until we toured the doll house, just once more.
You will love these poems. They will grab you at a visceral level and not let you go.