The Decline and Fall of the Chatty Empire

The Decline and Fall of the Chatty Empire

A review of The Decline and Fall of the Chatty Empire by John Emil Vincent

Published on November 1, 2023

Chatty Cathy, the briefly popular doll of the 1960s and source of the snide idiom, stars in John Emil Vincent’s new epyllion – a short narrative poem from classical poetics – which follows a post-canon Cathy along her journey to power. We explore the historical, the nonhuman narrator, and the object poem all at once, following the perspectives of the doll. The owned nonhuman, despite its limitations, lends itself to the tragic endings of growing up, growing into one’s body, and escaping the limits of popular culture that are all too human.

The Decline and Fall of the Chatty Empire
John Emil Vincent

McGill-Queen's University Press

[…] Cathy, amid trash,

lay back on her string’s ring


uncomfortable as it was. 

Couldn’t she had been born

anorectic or to pee when pressed?


Why’d her name

have to so perfectly

fit the marquee?

Vincent’s newest book is well-timed to coincide with this summer’s Barbie movie – they share the same concept of a doll finding its own identity despite its fate appearing to be prescribed. The humour of Chatty Cathy’s warlike passion is not lost on Vincent either; the poems are interspersed with references to other toys and pop culture elements during touching and ironic scenes alike:

There were cupcakes,

sinks of ricin and anthrax,

and a meth lab


built of Lincoln logs and

twisty straws. Everyone smiled.

Mindy not least of all.

The Decline and Fall of the Chatty Empire is a story in verse of the stuttering feeling of finding one’s purpose and overcoming cultural pressures on aging women. Readers across disciplines will relate to the adventures of the contemporary that resonate throughout the book.mRb

Zoe Shaw is a writer and editor based in Montreal. She is the Managing Editor at carte blanche literary magazine.



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