Reviews of Crime Against Nature

From Publisher's Weekly:

The Lamont Poetry Selection for 1989, this hard-edged and provocative collection takes its title from the North Carolina statute under which Pratt would have faced criminal prosecution as a lesbian had she fought for legal custody of her children. The book centers on the poet's painful decision to give up her two young sons ("I paid for my freedom with my children'') and her coming to terms with a choice forced on her by an unforgiving patriarchal system. Never sentimental or histrionic, Pratt's poems deal directly and explicitly with issues of anger, shame, sexuality and injustice. Thematic concerns of self-denial, separation, loss and the mother-child relationship are powerfully reinforced by recurring images of a "splintered'' and "divided'' self and Pratt's fragmentary narratives. By staying true to her lesbian identity, she earns the respect and love of her sons, who, although not in her custody, are not alienated from her. Here Pratt is finally able to tell her "version'' and, ultimately, see herself not as victim but victor: "In my version, I walk / to where I want to live.''

 

From Robyn Selman, The Village Voice Literary Supplement:

In Crime Against Nature, Pratt takes up with both hands what was perhaps too painful to hold in We Say We Love Each Other. . . . Although this collection is a novel in poetry, it is anything but prosaic. Many of the poems here explode in staccato lines. . . . I don't want to give away the details of this riveting story, but Pratt, who sometimes alludes to being tired of telling it, also obsessively anticipates criticism of her actions: "The first question is: What do your children think of you?" "Women ask:/ Why didn't you--?/ like they do of women who've been raped.". . . . In "Seven Times Going, Seven Coming Back," Pratt writes, "In the dark I pray to somebody (is it myself?)/ who will not divide self from self, self from life." Much of this prayer, it seems, has been answered. Pratt is out as a lesbian, a mother, and a person. Her relationship with her sons is intact. Crime Against Nature is evidence that freedom is a hybrid--imperative, punishment, and poetry.

 

From Leonore Gordon, American Book Review:

[This] is not an easy book to read; it does not soothe the senses or reassure. . . . It is impossible not to grieve and rage with Pratt. . . . [She] is never self-pitying nor self-indulgent, leaving us with an enormous admiration for both her courage, and her poetic artistry. In language reminiscent of the sharp, defined intelligence of Adrienne Rich, she forces us to recognize, with new clarity, that the personal and the political are unquestionably intertwined when a parent is legally expected to deny herself the pleasures of adult love, sexuality, and companionship if she is to have custody of her own children.

 

From Jan Clausen, Women's Review of Books:

Deprivation of custody [is the author's] punishment for the "crime" of loving women. Through the prism of this trauma and its aftermath the poet examines her own history and desires, and the interwoven legacy of a racist, militarist nation. In a number of ways, the book is heir to the feminist poetry tradition which began in the late sixties, with its ambition to stand the "male" (white, Western) tradition on its head. . . . . In "My Life You Are Talking About," Pratt rages at those who do not see the anguish of her interrupted motherhood, like the straight colleague who blurts in ignorant disbelief, "But how could that happen to someone with a Ph.D.?" "How can I make any of this into a poem?" she asks, mocking . . . imagination itself. The anti-poetic strategy is well worn by now in the feminist tradition, but it works brilliantly here. . . . This is an earnest, effortful book, packed with thought, dense with craft.

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Order Information

Crime Against Nature by Minnie Bruce Pratt
is currently out-of-print. Occasionally copies can be found at the used book site http://www.abebooks.com.
 
An extensive selection of poems from this book is available in
The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems by Minnie Bruce Pratt (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003).
http://www.upress.pitt.edu/upressIndex.aspx