Girls’ Adventure Stories of Long Ago

poetry by Viki Holmes

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

It seems appropriate to review a poetry collection in NewMyths since Duotrope has named us one of the top online markets for speculative poetry. I’d like to start with a remarkable book from Hong Kong-based writer Viki Holmes.

The first thing you will probably notice about the book is the cover, repurposed from a poster for Girls, a comedy by playwright Clyde Fitch. Apparently the plot of Fitch’s sex comedy involves women forming a “man hater’s club.” It was made into a movie in 1919, but is assumed to be a “lost film” as no copies of it remain to anyone’s knowledge. The plot sounds like an absolute riot, but nothing to do with Holmes’ Girls’ Adventure Stories of Long Ago so far as I can tell. In any case, our book benefits from the beautiful and evocative artwork.

Girls’ Adventure Stories is divided into twelve Chapters. Chapter the First is titled In which our heroine wakes in the ordinary world, and surrounds herself with stories. Right away we expect the writing to be aloof but stirring, the poet informed in craft and motivated by inspiration. 

Here I run into a problem with reviewing poetry. I really want to give you examples of the at-times mesmerizing language, but to copy much is to risk infringing on copyright. Let me put down only the opening lines of “Mnemosyne wakes” to give you a taste of what you’ll find inside Girls’ Adventure Stories:

Wrapped in red brocade, she pushes aside the stray hairs of the morning. Across the street, blue sparks from a welder’s fire, images cast on the ceiling of the sky.

And so the story begins. Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory, and also the mother to the muses. Appropriate, being as one’s muse is linked or crafted by our experiences through  the transformative agent of memory.

The opening poems are narrative poems. Others are more traditionally formatted, while still others use shape to nice effect. “Duty-Free,” for example, is presented in the shape of an airplane. All are written in free verse rather than using fixed rhythm and meter. 

While its Amazon description states that the book is inspired by Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, Holmes’ collection reads as more autobiographical than mythical. Or rather, it reads as autobiography driven through and shaped by a tunnel of myths and legends, British, European, and Asian. Much as the British author herself, now a resident of Hong Kong, has been shaped by those three great civilizations. For example, the third poem wears the same title as the book, and recites mini-adventures from nine different women, representative of a diversity of life experiences, before landing on the tenth woman, Viki (the author’s name), who gets a whole series of mini-adventures. The poem ends with:

she still believed everything she read in books.

The collection’s twelve chapters do follow the outline in Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” Chapters progress from In which our heroine is ready to begin her journey and crosses over into new worlds, through In which our heroine must decide whether to return home or commit to a higher purpose, to finally In which our heroine returns home with the elixir of knowledge.

With the craft and care that Viki Holmes has put into her Hero’s Journey, Girls’ Adventure Stories of Long Ago is a voyage you will want to share. Let us hope Viki Holmes still does believe everything she reads in books.

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