SUSAN MILLAR DUMAS: EVERYONE LOVES ME
1 Ballysillan Drive
ISBN 1 905425 24 4
A subsequent collection is BIG PINK UMBRELLA (Salmon Poetry ISBN 978 1 903392 74 4)
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This page last updated: 1st July 2008.
|SUSAN MILLAR DUMAS: EVERYONE LOVES ME|
In HOME FROM WORK, one of the finest poems in Susan Millar Dumars' collection of poetry, EVERYONE LOVES ME, she writes in an almost notebook style;
The red rug floats like a postcard on the cold lake of linoleum. Mocking beard of dust on the typewriter coverAt first glance, the flat tones, the level expression, seem unremarkable. The words are neutral, transparent; the mode is more self-commenting than self-reflective. At second glance, however, the play of meanings — the play between the red rug, the linoleum and the dust; the persona returning to the loneliness and bleakness of the room — becomes incontrovertible. The poet's purposes here are both subtle and deftly economic — subtle because the notion of the persona coming home to chaos and disorder in order to think up a poem captures something which, although self-mocking, is also defiantly everyday. Yet her intentions are economic because the seemingly unremarkable lines turn out to be complex, interwoven, ironic, and even funny.
In this book, the poet is a conversationalist who can talk about Denice in the deli, a dead daughter, the remembrance of being a child, waiting for a train — that is to say, she's a raconteur whose subject matter is the world around her. At the same time, her poems are contoured by a highly sensitive degree of selectivity. In short, EVERYONE LOVES ME gives an exemplary impression of being the work of a craftsperson-conversationalist who never fails to discriminate between the good and bad in people.
Carefully selected for their impact and understatement, brilliant in their accomplishment, the majority of the twenty-four poems in the collection are open, many-sided events. Yet Millar Dumars' voice moves at its own pace, building effects in a subdued and vernacular tone.
A persistent signature of Millar Dumars' work is her willingness to engage with philosophical ideas. A discursive, intelligent, deeply emotional poem as, say, OPEN PALMS, with its remembered conversation, its emptiness of language and vacuous simplicity is a classic poem in which the poet balances the groundedness and the ungroundedness of the speaker in the form of a philosophically self-aware song.
I dream he is murdered. The yard scattered with the boot prints of soldiers, deep and sharp. In the tall grass I find the head of our German Shepherd, still faithfully watching.This is a resolved, productive, deep-seated attitude towards expression. The tentative, dislocating sense of poetic expression informs the whole range of Millar Dumars' ability to perform with words — to perform with them, anywhere, anyhow. Somewhat like the people in the rhyming poem NUMBER FIVE:
Many people at Number Five will say there's too many at Number Five — cardiganned aunties in cruel beehives will say there's no room in Number Five.This sense of language, ingrained in the poet's attitude to her poems, is why they can move such extraordinary distances in tone, language and theme, building to conclusions of breath-taking clarity and directness. Take the poem WAITING FOR THE TRAIN, for example:
She drags her words up from a hot wound in her belly. Acid eats through the protective layers and creates gaping sucking burning.where the poet visualises a woman in a station making a phone call, but which moves beyond that simple action towards pain, heartache and humiliation. The poem is riveting; the end appears completely prepared and yet unprepared, arriving out of the blue. Millar Dumars' subdued, ironic voice talks the poems short lines until it moves into the concluding fierce phrases.
Millar Dumars achieves a similar effect by a very different means in a poem like RAIN AGAIN. Here two lovers are pictured: one awake, the other still sleeping. The woman parts the curtains and recalls her parents and their quarrels
Family car trips. Her parents sat, locked in silent combat, seething in the pilot and co-pilot seats.which rephrases the simple event in terms of a different kind of crisis but with stunning impact.
In the penultimate poem FALLEN 1973, we are taken back to a point in the poet's memory when she was a seven-year-old attending Sunday school.
Jesus — a snappy dresser in cranberry velvet, butterfly sleeves, Breck girl hair. And I dress up for HimThe child is under the impression that no harm can come to her in this new-found world, but when her chair topples, she cries out
because No One caught me. Nothing held me there.But the reader is caught up in Millar Dumars' poems, with their exquisite timing, their easily read lines and stunning stories.
The last poem HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE HALLOWEEN, takes the reader to the poet's prom night where she is
Wearing prom pink with white gloves,and is
hypnotised by my skirt spinning.It's a scene that many readers will recognise, but it has a different twist as we are given a picture of Andy dressed as Jesus, carrying a cross. The teenagers follow Andy (Jesus) through the night, where they feel free
and no one got nailed to anything.It's a strong poem, with startling images, humour and a touch of craziness.
Once you learn how to catch them you realize that these mortal themes underwrite all of EVERYONE LOVES ME. As you turn the pages, struck by the attentive observation of the behaviour of humanity, by the closeness of observation, and by the precise voicing of each line, you start to realise the gravity of the personal crisis each poem addresses. EVERYONE LOVES ME turns out to be pre-eminently a book about human relationships. Each of its poems suffused with a sense of love, loss, death and the poet's voice.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|