Elizabeth Strauss Friedman’s second poetry collection, “The Lost Positive: Constellation Poems,” describes women’s subordination to men in Western society. Her use of constellation names to illustrate women’s erasure, and her division of “The Lost Positive” into four sections—Chained Women, Strongmen who Fancy themselves Gods, Men’s Tools and Beasts—signal that her narrative of women’s oppression will be unflinching.
Strauss Friedman has also placed photographs throughout the collection that emphasize “The Lost Positive”’s theme of women’s lost agency and objectification. It’s important to stress, however, that these poems are not laments; they are truth-speaking and show the possibility and necessity for change. This collection is also a pleasure to read thanks to Strauss Friedman’s precise language, her command of elements such as alliteration, metaphor and meter, and her humor throughout.
In the poem “Medea Was Fleeced (Puppis Constellation—Stern of Argo Navis),” Medea is in a therapist’s office telling the story of Jason’s betrayal of her as the reason for killing him “and Creon. And his miserable daughter./ What choice did he leave me? I’ve been relegated to hell. Include this at my commitment hearing.” Medea’s sardonic “include this at my commitment hearing” makes her ancient murders contemporary, for women today are still abused by the men they make sacrifices for and too often their stories are not believed.
“Perched (Horologium Constellation—Pendulum Clock)” begins with this fantastic desire: “When I die I want to be made into art/and mailed to those who would not love me.” The voice continues to overpower the presumed man it’s written for:
I’ll sit pretty as a monument to your failures—
Sit pretty as you sit restless.
I am test results that will not be ignored.
Symptoms of me will persist.
The collection’s last poem “Tragic Magic (Ursa Minor Constellation—Small Bear)” is the final, powerful iteration of “The Lost Positive”’s feminist theme:
If only we could show our faces to
the Board of Directors, not versed in the ways
of red oceans that pulse while dying.
In the epigraph that introduces “The Lost Positive,” Strauss Friedman writes that a lost positive is a “word that’s been lost in its positive form in the vernacular; and that only exists in the negative… Women are the lost positives of language in the constellations… We must claim our place and be rightfully recognized as the positives in the universe.” “The Lost Positive” is not only a pleasure to read and go back to; it also gives readers the inspiration necessary to fight for a rightful place in the constellation.
“The Lost Positive: Constellation Poems”
By Elizabeth Strauss Friedman
BlazeVOX, 86 pages