Arts + Culture » Literary

Deeply homesick for a woman’s voice

With Penelope, poet Sue Goyette wrote the version of The Odyssey she wanted to read.

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The first time Sue Goyette read The Odyssey was in high school. She liked the logic of the myth and how things could be solved creatively in unexpected ways. Then, after experiencing her own personal epic, she returned to the poem, curious about its scope and things had shifted. "I was hungry for another narrative," says Goyette. "I found myself deeply homesick for a woman's voice in it. You write the book you want to read. I did it, I occupied Penelope."

Goyette's new collection Penelope: In First Person is as epic as poems come, rewriting the myth from Odysseus' wife Penelope's perspective: A woman left to hold her kingdom and family together through decades of struggle, not the least of her grievances the lecherous suitors ("like waking up in Bearly's"), a mercurial son, mysterious goddess and a house full of sentient objects.

Sequestered in Liverpool, Goyette wrote Penelope in nine months after a period of reading, gathering and watching. "I write really fast," she says. "I don't write all the time, I gather my energy; it's like a big sneeze." She credits that time on the south shore without a phone or the internet as tantamount to her process, "the nature of my attention was a lot more potent," says Goyette. "I could sustain my concentration the way I couldn't in the city—a day there is like a dog year, longer and deeper."

With the help of Laughing Whale Coffee, Beyonce's Lemonade and the intensity of a master at her craft, Goyette's fiercely feminist version of Penelope is a stunning achievement for the already lauded poet. "It's a transformative thing, to occupy and write your experience," she says. "Waiting is not a passive thing, it's actually quite active. To have her peripherally waiting—any of us who have gone through deep grief or sat in hospitals waiting will know—it is so alert, waiting is vigourous."


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