I wrote “The Girl in Question” in early summer, a time of year that’s historically been creatively fallow for me. June 2011 was especially so; I was busily packing to leave town, and I can’t even really tell you what poetry I was reading at the time. The job I was running off to was at an academic camp for high schoolers, one I’d attended myself as a teenager. I’d be living and working with creative writing students. At that age, in my writing, I’d been particularly interested in magic and how it was performed—spells in Latin, or faux-Latin; animal familiars; circles and quarter-candles, one for each cardinal direction; talismans made from newts’ eyes and crow feathers. In the books I read, there was obvious metaphor in the magicians’ attempts to control their surroundings and relationships through spell-casting, especially when the magicians were young girls—my favorite to read and write about at that time. My reading interests are broader now, but as I packed, I felt as if I was about to inhabit an old, familiar version of myself. Before I left, I reread some of my favorite books from my teenage years. This poem came from that reading.
“The Girl in Question” was intended to be the final poem in a longer series that weaves through a manuscript I am working on. The poems constitute a myth whose central figure is a girl at once bandit and monarch, delicate and truculent, victim and aggressor. Through the indirect lens of her character, I wanted to explore some of the binaries of adolescence, particularly female adolescence. In this poem, I gave my character a doppelganger, a not atypical move in fantasy, particularly when the protagonist is a teenager. At that age, you try on personalities the way Marie Antoinette tried on ball gowns; you can feel that you’re many people simultaneously and that none of them have anything in common, not even a name. That there’s no point when the gaps between your “yous” will be stitched back together. The theme of mending, buttoning, and fastening appears throughout “The Girl in Question,” and its impetus is very much in the idea of pulling together into a single self.
Of course, none of this is remotely new territory. The poem owes as much of a debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it does to Lucie Brock-Broido’s A Hunger and Alison Stine’s Ohio Violence, and it owes more than that to my students from last summer. As it turned out (Harry Potter notwithstanding), they were considerably more grounded in the trappings of this world than I was at that age, though they were still awash in the same stew of becoming and all its attendant mysteries—magical or non-magical.