Lori Cayer’s poetry collection Mrs Romanov reveals the unexpectedly quotidian concerns of Alexandra Feodorovna, the last tsarina of Imperial Russia.
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Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna was many things. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, a dedicated dupe of the notorious mystic Grigori Rasputin—and the steadfast wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and mother to their five children.
In her collection of poems, Mrs Romanov, Lori Cayer gives voice to the expectations and fears of this powerful and ultimately doomed figure. With great empathy and emotion, she presents a portrait in poetry of a woman whose concerns, even as she navigates the ‘forest of eyes and gossiping teeth’ of her unwelcoming adoptive country, prove startlingly domestic. Cayer captures Alexandra’s devotion to her husband and her children, in particular her constant anxiety over her young hemophiliac son: ‘anyone who could see into this house / would see love / breathing itself like a tubercular lung / imprinting itself to life like a snapshot’. But in so doing, Cayer exposes another Alexandra, one whose attempts to bolster her politically inept husband caused Russia to veer sharply from autocracy to revolution, and her family from prosperity to fatal captivity.
Excerpt from Book
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
‘A riveting collection, right from the first poem. Cayer’s writing is sharply chiseled, resonant. In these highly crafted, taut poems, a complex chapter of Russia’s history, the demise of "the old brocaded world order" is explored through the lens of royalty but ultimately, isolation, family, and "love/breathing itself like a tubercular lung". A book of stark, beautiful, striking extremes: iron and lace, old and new regimes, and the dead "underfoot like wet carpet". A tour de force.’
—Jeanette Lynes, Author of Bedlam Cowslip: The John Clare Poems
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.