Pestiferous Questions: A Life in Poems
Pestiferous Questions: A Life in Poems (LitFest Press 2017)
Excerpts from a review by Kathleen Fagley in Whale Road Review 11 (Summer 2018)
“Beyond political and social implications (and there are many in this book), it is the dialogue that Jessie has with herself, her friend, her family, and her husband that I find the most interesting.”
“She creates her own destiny out of words. The universe of Jessie Benton Fremont is capacious; her struggle with the slavery question adds dramatic background to this story of a woman making her way in this men’s world, through the administrations of ‘Little Van, slave-holding Tyler, Bleeding Kansas Pierce—officious old men eyeing young girls.’”
“…the writer is more than successful in melding voices, modes of writing, language, image, and personal and political history in this impressive book of poetry.”
Excerpt from a review by Mark Zimmerman in Wisconsin People & Ideas (Fall 2017)
“Because Rozga is such a skilled poet and storyteller, multifaceted lives of people gradually emerge as the book progresses, events unfold; the resultant dramas reveal a troubled and troubling American history. In capturing this historical moment in verse, Margaret Rozga gives her readers memorable poetry, a fine life story of Jessie Benton Frémont, and a history they can draw upon to ponder the pestiferous questions of our day.”
Excerpts from a review by Barbara Sorenson in Mom Egg Review (September 2017)
“Poet/historian Rozga must “dig like crazy” (23) to unearth a herstory that is persistent and prickly, and as she checks her subject to find “in what agitated waters swim her syntactic swans” (63), she finds deep and turbulent waters, indeed.”
“Through Rozga’s elegant and spare writing, the reader can hear Jessie, our luminous guide, telling us from some distant shore what history really emulates: an angel to awaken the sleeping, or the dead: History is a meandering river, different / from the line that represents it on a map. / See a meeting of streams, the placid / Ohio giving way to the muddy Mississippi, / already conjoined with Missouri. / Those who don’t know history / are destined to repeat…Repeat: / those who know history see exactly / how we live on its flood plain.” (114).
Sample Poem from Pestiferous Questions: A Life in Poems
Let Me Not Misspeak
The Letters of Jessie Benton Frémont:
I open the book to her letter dated five years
after her marriage. On the page a voice pleading
with her husband, an undertone claiming my ear:
How old are you? You might tell me now I am
a Col.'s wife—won't you, old papa? Poor papa…
I read fiction fashioned out of Jessie's story.
The author, tone deaf, dedicates it to his wife
as if she were Jessie's shadow, he and Frémont
heroes, each she thus reduced to an
I try to imagine a Capital girlhood,
daily guests for breakfast, for dinner,
a small table in a separate room
for children who misspeak.
Having misspoken she learns—
prompt others, reply briefly, smile.
I visit the archives where in Frémont's
grand leather-bound Memoirs her
introduction celebrates the happy chance
which made her the connecting link
in our manifest destiny
as if it were all glory, as if
there were no rifts between husband
and father, no indigenous people displaced,
no one lonely, hurt, hurting.
I touch the gold-leafed pages.
They impress but cannot convince
me. Between the fragile pages of father-
and husband-centered history,
I dig like crazy.
Sample poem from Pestiferous Questions--
Jessie: Mr. Lincoln Must Listen, Must Support General Frémont, 1861
Father lived and breathed history. He took to heart its wars, its issues, saw how generals, statesmen, heroes stood strong, saw how their winning or losing rolled forward to our own times. He taught me.
Tonight, given the moon's glare on the dressing table mirror, I cannot even see myself, not clearly. So much unseen, even in full sun, unseen by friends, old friends, once friends, unseen by men like Frank Blair who cannot look themselves in the mirror, can no longer look me in the eye.
Father so kind to him. Father offered Frank his connections. How else does a man like Frank, fond as he is of drink, gain election to Congress?
I cannot see why he turns against me. Against us. Can he not see the soldiers in tattered uniforms, some with no uniforms, some even without shoes? His friends sell the army blind horses, sick mules, rancid meat, thin or rent canvas for tents. Troops muster in, muster out. Unpaid. Discharged. How the greedy love war! The money to be made.
Can they not see? Such an ill-equipped army cannot win this necessary war. Why do they not see how order is necessary? How General Frémont must be obeyed? The chain of command is only as strong as its weakest link. This army, so many weak links up and down the chain.
The great cause of this war, emancipation, they do not, cannot, will not see. They refuse to see how it rallies new volunteers despite the cold, the need to bring their own guns and horses, even their own food. This war will be won only if we fight for a great cause.
This mirror, the moon. I want to see myself clearly. I will be seen.
I will tell what I see. Officers duck, dodge, shun, evade responsibility. They say General Frémont's Guard too showy. They say his style too aloof, they disregard his orders. They mock him. They show no will to win. They seem not to care. They want the General replaced.
I will, I must, to Washington City. The President must see me, must listen, must know why the General's order must stand, why we must emancipate the secessionists' slaves.
General Jessie, they call me. Why do they hate us?
Why do they hate me?