I’ve always had a fascination with history. I mean, what self-respecting book lover doesn’t have a soft spot for what is essentially a giant, complicated, never ending story that plays out in front of his or her eyes?
Naturally, when the manuscript for Mrs Romanov by the wonderful poet Lori Cayer crossed my desk, I knew I was looking at something special. A historically grounded and exceedingly well-researched poetry collection about the notorious Romanovs? Sign me up! I was immediately pulled back in time, to a Russia on the cusp of revolution. We get a sense of the glittering Imperial court and the political complexities faced by the European royals–many of whom were related to each other. We also get a sense of the rumbles of discontent in the background, of the looming Russian Revolution, and the sense that the world was beginning to find itself at a crossroads between the old ways and the new technology.
But I was even more fascinated by the depth of thought and feeling that went into fleshing out Mrs Romanov herself, the last tsarina of Imperial Russia. She was unpopular due to her reserve as well as her German upbringing, but she was nonetheless a dedicated wife and a loving mother. She was guilt-ridden for having passed on the hereditary condition hemophilia to her young son, Alexei, and the poems in Mrs Romanov definitely capture the emotions of a desperate mother willing to do anything—even ally herself with the notorious mystic Rasputin—to heal her son.
Lori Cayer has done a fantastic job of creating a portrait of a complicated and imperfect person in whom I think many of us can see aspects of ourselves. Keep reading for a sneak peek of this book, coming soon from the Porcupine’s Quill:
Excerpt from Mrs Romanov
Broken iterations, toward a purified body
the boy, ever in a steady state of death-pain
the mother howling silently in a gorge of sorrow
there is no cure for the screaming at night
he runs and bleeding erupts between bones
cranks his knee to his chest
so he can’t walk for months, he throws a ball
and his arm retracts into a rusted axle
I am not afraid, Mother, let it come
from state dinner parties I endure with sweating
lip, I gather my skirts high for running
the long halls to his room, tear off the jewels
re-enter the wound in which he scrapes
no-one can say we are not swallowed whole
by all this dying, then living again
Unseen, the harp string at my core
I move simply among my man and my children
as birches sieve and scatter the sunlight
my affection filters them, keeps them pure
they should rejoice in my strong and proper action
my two selves
bound to earth, made of fractures and leather
mother, splinter, wife, nurse, damned splinter
damnable empress, splinter and shard
in my eyes, a true duty-book of restraint, knife edged
reflecting photographic tones, long seconds
unsmiling so the picture will not be blurred
but what of the men who will dig my grave?
my death dress, my code of privacies and sewn scars
the forms of my loving, scrawling forward across time
will they understand my splendid purpose?
the earth will never be rid of my bones
About the Author
Lori Cayer is the author of three previous poetry collections, including Dopamine Blunder (Tightrope Books, 2016), Attenuations of Force (Frontenac House, 2010) and Stealing Mercury (The Muses’ Company, 2004). Her poetry is endlessly informed by her editorial work in scientific research publishing. She lives in Winnipeg.
Take my word for it—you need to read this book. And if you happen to find yourself in Winnipeg this month, don’t miss the book launch on Wednesday, September 12 at McNally Robinson Grant Park!