Review – ‘On Becoming a Role Model’ by Lynne Schmidt

I received a digital review copy from the publisher.

In many cases, writing is something of a legacy – a piece of the writer preserved forever in their words. In this publication, Lynne Schmidt holds nothing back about what shaped her formatively, what she intends to be her legacy, and the vast gap between the two. On Becoming a Role Model is an extraordinary example of feminist identity writing.

Poet Lynne Schmidt explores how the experiences of a traumatic early childhood on her sense of self and the dynamic of her family. She does not shy away from sharing details and it is this rawness that gives the work a sense of gravitas and urgency. She reflects on how her younger years impacted her relationships as she grew up, and her sense of self-worth:
How do you tell someone who loves you so much,
who runs across parking lots to jump into your arms,
that you hate the person they love?

Schmidt does not exercise restraint in describing emotional damage and its devastating effects, but through the dark moments the reader sees the beginning of the evolution, as the poet starts to recognise the future she wants for herself and takes steps towards it.
There is a defining moment in the titular poem:
But on that day
in the history of the world
I decided
that I would become someone
that my niece could look up to.

The power in many of these works lies in their raw urgency. Schmidt summons tremendous visuals, both literal and metaphorical, to capture the immediacy of the moments and her reactions to them. When writing about her disability, she captures a hurricane of feeling and the incredible effort it requires for her to contain it, while fighting back against the stigma with incredible dignity. Hers is a voice for the marginalised as she reminds the reader that they are not their past.

The structure of the poems uses line breaks to pick out questions and units of thought to great effect. The final stanzas and lines of the poems are strong examples of this, as they often reveal another dimension of meaning to the works. The final poem in the collection is an outstanding example of this.

Lynne Schmidt lays bare her identity in this collection – the experiences that shaped her, the complicated relationships she navigates across the undercurrent of her childhood, the ways in which patriarchal society has abandonded her. But her refusal to succumb, to conform, shines through in this collection. Self-worth creeps back, along with a desire to be a better person and shape a future for others without the shadows that haunt her own past. Her decision to own her choices, and make different ones from a place of healing, brings this collection to an end on a note of hope. On one point, Lynne is absolutely correct: they cannot burn us all.

On Becoming A Role Model is available now from Thirty West Publishing House.

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