Lori Cayer's poetry collection Mrs Romanov reveals the unexpectedly quotidian concerns of Alexandra Feodorovna, the last tsarina of Imperial Russia.
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.
- Short-listed, Manitoba Book Awards Lansdowne Prize for Poetry
- Long-listed, Raymond Souster Award
- Long-listed, Pat Lowther Memorial Award
- Short-listed, ReLit Awards, Poetry
Excerpt: Mrs Romanov (by (author) Lori Cayer)
Show your own mind, and don't let others forget who you are
is it wrong that I feel a secret shame for my husband?
I can't bear to watch him, a fish on the sand
his father's men who use him for their own affairs
he inhales his rage with constant cigarettes
bends a hundred times a day
to the will of the one with whom he last spoke
twelve hours a day they bury him in paperwork
he diligently reads and signs every document
from banal approvals of Easter egg gifts for staff
to kill orders and death sentences
is it love or my own nature that spurs me on?
husband of capitulation, husband of avoidant ways
I apply myself to him as a poultice of pressure
describe a fist, a voice, push him out the door
inside and out I see all are displeased with him
he aligns his pencils
stubborn like an abandoned old rail car
he is pushed squealing or he is frozen in place
I tell God I fear I have married not an emperor
but a man in his ordinary cloak of skin
When dawn opens like a sash, a moment of blank
I recall all that has happened in painful cascade
long lists of unjust acts, and we
tedious fabric of our humiliated lives
my blood runs cold as if Ive been sitting in dirt
entire days have gone abject, how much worse
our remaining riches smuggled this far
enough jewels left to buy a quite exile
our ten soft hands sewing for months
collateral stitched between the bones of our corsets
into belts and hat bands, seams and false buttons
ready to move, empty handed, at a moment's notice
familiar handwork for confiscated days
bright bands of soreness to adorn our ribs
'While history has much to say about Alexandra Feodorovna, her turbulent life and abundant failures, Cayer delivers a compassionate and fully-embodied Alexandra, her voice at once intimate, demanding, petulant and loving. Informed by themes of gender, marriage, motherhood, and power, Mrs Romanov is a generous portrait of a woman both formed by and constrained within the flawed construct of European aristocracy near the end of the Victorian era-a most compelling read.'
'A compelling exercise in poetic biographical fiction, the series of nearly a hundred poems succeeds in creating a character out of a myth, in carving a human out of a mountain called Empress, while still maintaining a tantalizing distance between reader and subject. Though the porous beauty of this intricately woven narrative of the life of Alexandra Feodorovna occasionally finds itself in danger of being weighed down by the heft of the story Cayer has to tell, she always manages to steer her self-indulgent narrator back into realms of (relative) accessibility. The result is a domestic-epic of refreshingly delicate, sparse proportions.'
Contemporary Verse 2
'Cayer juxtaposes her characters' richly textured private lives with rising social unrest, political struggle, and ravening gossipmongers. She captures the delicate balance of the Romanovs' Inside and Outside Worlds and the fragility of their highly scrutinized lives through the motif of Fabergé eggs, ''those bejewelled manifestations of us / ... / arrayed on the mantel.'' '