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Musgrave, Susan.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1985. 151pp, paper, $9.55, ISBN 0-7710-6651-1. CIP

Reviewed by Vivienne Denton

Volume 13 Number 6
1985 November

This is Susan Musgrave's latest book of new poetry since A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury (McClelland and Stewart, 1979) in 1979. It bears the catchy title typical of her collections, suggestive of violence and reversal. These titles, like the language and images of punk culture, seem designed to shock. There is a fair range of subject and tone within the collection, although the poetry is chiefly erotic and the dominant genre is a sort of punk gothicism. The title poem, for example, features a wild dream sequence of drinking, sex, and vampirism set in a mausoleum in a forest. A few of the poems could be called love poems, but for the most part these are poems about physical desire; often crazed fantasies figuring images of animals (sharks and bears are favourites), savage teeth, dismemberment, and torture. This is very disembodied poetry on the subject of the lists of the flesh; poems are characteristically in the form of dreams where action is not enumerated in gross physical descriptions but in a sequence of images. In fact, according to Susan Musgrave's notes, many of these poems began as dreams. At least she tells us this much of the poems in the section of the collection entitled, "My Boots Drive Off in a Cadillac," a title indicative of the kind of story line of many of the poems.

Not all the poems are frenetic fantasies. One section, entitled "We Come This Way But Once," comprising poetic reflections from a poetry reading tour with fellow Canadian poets Bill Bissett and George Johnston, celebrates friendship and shared experiences. Another poignant group is a series of requiems for absent friends, in this section also, one finds a longer poem, "Requiem for Talunkwun Island," a lament for the rape of an island in the Queen Charlottes where logging has caused such massive soil erosion that reforestation is impossible.

Musgrave weaves fantastic fictions whose meanings are often obscure. Images are telescoped, reversed, or mingled incongruously as in dreams. At the back of the book, the poet has appended what is described on the dust jacket as a "poetic journal in the form of Musgrave's notes to the poems." While these notes give the reader a handle on some of the poems, they do not go very far in illuminating others. Musgrave herself makes no claims for these notes other than to say, "I have written notes on some of these poems in the way that I might introduce them at a poetry reading: this gives them a context, I feel, without attempting to explain them away." The journal with the poet's voice providing an introduction to her poems is, in fact appropriate, for Musgrave's is theatrical poetry, and one is very conscious of the poet speaking. The final poem in the book, "Not a Love Poem," deals with the topic of poetic inspiration. It begins very prosaically, albeit provocatively, "Last night as I sat in my bath. . . ." In this collection the poet flaunts a most private, naked self; in the bath, in the bed, in her erotic fantasies. It makes for always provocative and sometimes compelling poetry.

Vivienne Denton, Toronto, Ont.
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