In her reflective poetry collection, Agnes Vojta breaks down the role of the domestic woman, coping with small town life while existing outside of its expectations. The Eden of Perhaps (Spartan Press, 2020) is a role-shattering exploration into the intimate world of suburban women. Vojta invites reader to embark on a journey of self-discovery through the eyes of a woman who finally finds the strength to question heteronormativity in the face of patriarchal culture.
The collection appropriately begins with an invocation of the muse. However, Vojta’s invocation subverts the traditional role of the muse in Ancient Greek literature. The muse’s purpose is typically to provide a prologue for an epic centered around manhood. In Homer’s The Odyssey, the muse tells readers of “the man of twists and turns,” who the Western canon has decidedly crowned a literary hero. Vojta instead turns the concept of the feminine mouthpiece on its head—her collection speaks of “a fierce, fiery muse / of the get-their-attention squad,” who demands to know: “what are you waiting for?” The muse prompts the speaker and the reader to ask themselves the same question while acknowledging the potential for transformation within both figures. Vojta further rejects romantic tropes of “…wispy muses / who whisper in the trees,” and “…cerebral muses / who linger in libraries.” The Eden of Perhaps ignores the historically male protagonist, confidently declaring that the muse’s own story is equally as valuable, equally as interesting, and equally as worthy of being told. In this way, Vojta’s lyrical critique of gender conformity is large in scope, drawing from similarities in both the mythological and domestic spheres.
Similarly, natural imagery recurs throughout the collection, suggesting an ethereal form of beauty in the sublime and an aversion to man-made, societal expectations. Vojta’s imagery builds from the narrator’s clear struggle between conforming to small-town gender norms and breaking free from their constraints. The collection’s poems constantly switch back and forth between tangible, household spaces to more ephemeral, transcendental spaces. “Seeds of No Return,” from which the collection derives its name, describes a bountiful feast reminiscent of a cornucopia table—her words suggest a sense of responsibility: an inescapable pressure to remain tethered to domestic life. Despite knowing how fruitful it is to explore expressions of identity, the speaker is hesitant.
In “Questioning,” and “The Cage,” Vojta highlights claustrophobic feelings that small town life evokes, retelling the story of a woman who must sneak away to read in her local library, in fear that she might be reprimanded for pursuing knowledge. Of course, like all of Vojta’s brilliant yet subtle critiques, her literary references aren’t without purpose. The feminine pursuit of knowledge, as a poetic trope, has its roots in man’s fall from grace. The speaker admits, “at home, she hides [her books] / under piles of paper / or on the shelves, / spines facing the wall.” The reversal of knowledge as a source of toxicity for women, to a source of self-discovery, is another way that Vojta rejects traditionally feminine roles.
The speaker further expresses comfort in the sublime when she asserts, “I am the needle that points / wherever the magnet is / you cannot use my orientation / to define north.” Vojta’s poems capture wilderness stills—flowing streams, mountain ranges, and even a winged phoenix—to call for a return to our natural states, which the collection implies is an embrace of gender inclusivity. The speaker’s “orientation,” she demands, can’t be co-opted by people who want to speak for her.
In fact, the poems here argue against a one-size-fits-all solution to gender-based issues. Vojta regards coming to terms with one’s gender expression as a long process that can happen later in life and is defined by hesitance, acceptance, and questioning. Her collection recognizes exploration as a long journey, made evident by its calls back to classical literature. Unapologetically feminist, in “We Live in a World of Right Angles,” the speaker admits her desire to “…dissolve / the man-made melt / into the in-between.” The Eden of Perhaps validates the twists and turns that often come with self-discovery, rather than the kind that only give depth to historically heroic male protagonists. Vojta’s “Eden” isn’t necessarily a place. It is the in-between—the worthwhile journey that allows individuals to feel comfortable in their skin regardless of gender norms.
Crysta Montiel is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she studies English Literature and Philosophy. She previously worked as an editorial intern at Ayesha Pande Literary Agency. When Crysta’s not digging through treasure troves of queries, she’s completing her Criterion Collection bucket list and playing with her cat.