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Monday, March 13, 2006

Reader's Diary #50- Mary Dalton: Merrybegot (up to "Merrybegot")


I've been asking myself if these poems would stand up as poems if old Newfoundland vernacular was no different than modern words, words that are part of everyday Canadian vocabulary. That is, I've questioned if the word choice is just an interesting gimmick that masks poor quality poems?

A silly, hypothetical question really. It's almost akin to asking if "Jabberwocky" would be poetic if Carroll had used real words. Word choice is the point.

But is a study of old Newfoundland words and phrases the only thing these poems have to offer? I'd have to say it depends on the particular poem. Poems such as "Down The Bay" are little more than doggerels as far as I'm concerned. And occasionally I come across a poem that I think lacks consistency. The best (or worse) example I can think of is "The Cross-Handed Bed". In this particular poem the speaker says that his wife had a waist "like a wasp" and sang like a "wren". Towards the end he (the speaker) says their four-poster bed's "all reefs and sunkers". I'd like any of these images on their own but all jumbled up in a 15 line poem, they seem erratic and don't allow the reader to get "into" the poem.

But those poems, fortunately aren't the most representative of the book. The majority (or so I'm finding) are intelligent and well written. Two favourites "Elt" and "Fairy-Struck" are especially interesting because they come one after the other (as I mentioned before, the poems are arranged alphabetically) and seem like retellings of the same story from two different perspectives. I'm not sure if we're supposed to link the two, but it seems like in "Elt" the speaker is describing a troublemaking man that took advantage of his daughter, while in "Fairy Struck" it seems that the speaker is the daughter and she's describing how she was taken advantage of and her realization. It's interesting to contrast the two poems. The father seems to ridicule the man as a trickster and basically a good-for-nothing, while the daughter paints the man with a more supernatural evil. It says a lot about the characters themselves and is probably realistic. Any father would probably feel somewhat like they've seen this sort of man before and distrust him immensely, but for the daughter who needs to save face and not appear naive she would want to make it seem like he had some sort of spell over her. It's an extremely clever couple of poems.

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