Daniela Olszewska’s chapbook The Twelve Wives of Citizen Jane is a collection of poems written in couplets with each poem, as the title implies, dedicated to a wife of Citizen Jane. The number twelve holds mystical, cultural, and religious significance: 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Olympians, 12 Apostles, 12-step programs, 12 imams, the number of studio albums released by the Beatles. There is this same mythical quality to Citizen Jane’s story—we feel Citizen Jane is a vessel for a story, that she is representative of something bigger than just herself.
These are fun poems, and Olszewska’s language, which brings together odd-fitting words to make a disorienting, almost cinematic experience, reads a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where not just the whole is acknowledged, but also the cracks, the missing pieces. This tension is what makes the chapbook engaging; after all, though Jane is the only one of the characters who is named, our portrait of her is through each of her wives, who are described wryly within military language:
Button cute, for her age
And rank, she was always
Asking Jane if she thought
Her nose looked revolutionary
Olszewska’s choice of couplets nicely ties Jane with the wife in question, rendering their togetherness amid and against a chaotic world.
With each poem, we get the sense that Jane is in a role of defiance or citizen policing, as Olszewska references war, the military, and weapons throughout the chapbook, as well as the larger contexts of history and legacy. Tragedy strikes; wives die in bloody messes. But Jane continues to fight and continues to fall in love. And in a world of firing squads and Kevlar, there is something rather sweet about that.