In Men and Their Whims, Laura Madeline Wiseman digs deep into the lives of 19th century lecturer and poet Matilda Fletcher and her brother, George W. Felts. Borrowing from the official record and adding to it her own powerful voice, Wiseman uncovers two equally important manifestations of history: the stories and anecdotes that comprise the public record, and the quiet moments and intimate details between these siblings that comprise a largely invisible, but no less urgent, private history. The poems are filled with well-researched facts, public figures such as Walt Whitman and Ulysses S. Grant, and the upheaval and aftermath of the Civil War. Yet, they retain a level of detail and candor not often found in any history book. Matilda’s great strength, her sense of ethics and empathy, come to life as she first campaigns for Grant, and later attempts to free her brother from an unfair imprisonment. Wiseman also gives voice to George W. Felts, Matilda’s brother, about whom little is known. He was a Civil War veteran, he lost his hearing to cannon fire and to measles, and he was convicted of killing a man who may have been his lover. Wiseman quietly mines the few facts of George’s life to create a complex figure, a man physically and spiritually wounded, a man who loved other men in an age when such behavior was criminal, and a man robbed of his freedom because he could not hear and did not know what charges were leveled against him. If history has traditionally been written by the “victors,” then Laura Madeline Wiseman is working to counter this injustice, giving voice to the common, the silent, the invisible.
– William Reichard