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Who Is Mary Sue? by Sophie Collins review – correcting sexist narratives

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Using a range of inventive techniques, these poems pick apart damaging assumptions about female creativity

The term “Mary Sue” was coined by author Paula Smith in 1973, to satirise the unrealistic female characters in Star Trek fanfiction. The label, for the implausibly perfect female archetypes that are thought to be thinly disguised versions of the fanfiction author’s idealised self, has acquired a pejorative significance over time. It is mostly associated with self-insertion and wish-fulfilment in a genre dominated by female writers, giving the term an undercurrent of misogyny.

Sophie Collins’s debut poetry collection, Who Is Mary Sue?, inquisitively picks apart the assumption that women lack creative autonomy, and that female-authored literature only ever reflects on real, often domestic, experience. She exposes the murky politics behind readership and reception with rigorous investigation and clever, almost comical, allegory. In her poem Healers, a scaffold is imagined as a female and described as “fundamentally insecure”, found “slumped against the side of the church … Her safety mesh / was torn in places and sun-bleached all over / and threatened to dislodge”.

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