Poetique | Sex & Sound in Tishani Doshi's 'Girls are Coming Out of the Woods'


Tishani Doshi’s Girls are Coming Out of the Woods is a collection of “powerful, haunting poems about rain, death, poetry and love, with the sea pounding unrelentingly in the background” (from the blurb). Doshi is an Indian poet and dancer who often performs her poems, her best known rendition being that of the title poem, ‘Girls are Coming Out of the Woods’.

‘Girls are Coming Out of the Woods’ draws on fairytale elements. The image of the forest is invoked in the title itself. The girls, who are coming out of the woods in the poem, are dressed in “cloaks and hoods”; these are the girls found “naked in ditches and wells, / those forgotten in neglected attics.” The references in these lines are to fairytales where little girls become the subject of brutal and gruesome assault. One only has to turn the pages of such innocent-looking tales and delve deeper into their origins to find this darkness. The reference is also to the figure of the mad woman in the attic.

Silence and sound play on Doshi’s words. The girls have “panties tied around their lips” but they are “making such a noise, it’s impossible / to hear.” Later in the poem, the girls are like birds who arrive at morning windows, pecking and humming. The bird-like innocence is again undercut, for all you can hear is “the smash of their miniscule hearts / against glass, the bright desperation / of sound—bashing, disappearing.” 

The girls are coming out of the woods to scatter their stories. The reference to stories, once again, links back to the fairytale elements in the poem. The stories that these girls wish to scatter are of “all the lies / whispered by strangers and swimming / coaches, and uncles, especially uncles, / who said spreading would be light / and easy.” It is against the scars of sexual assault that the girls have lifted “iron bars and candles.” 

The word ‘coming’ in the title is suggestive of these girls arriving. It is also suggestive of female orgasm in the lines “lifting / their broken legs high, leaking secrets / from unfastened thighs.” A sense that female orgasm is natural is conveyed by the setting of the poem and the refrain, "Girls are coming out of the woods." Female orgasm is linked to story-telling as the girls are “leaking secrets.”

In the opening poem of the collection titled ‘Contract’, the poet agrees to turn her skin inside out, “to reinvent every lost word.” It is perhaps this contract that she upholds in telling these stories in the poem.

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Poetique (poetry + critique) is a series on this blog where we dissect and bring our own reading to works of poetic genius.

Girls are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi, published by Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.
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