Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Reader's Diary #119- Marian Frances White: Skinny Dipping (up to "Pressure Cooking")

When I first listened to Pearl Jam's "Daughter" I couldn't make out if Eddie Vedder was singing "...young girl...violins" or "...young girl...violence" so I checked up the lyrics in the cd booklet. I must say, I was pretty impressed when I saw that they had written "young girl...violins(ence)". But would it be impressive if they employed such a tactic in every other song? Not likely.

Such is the case with Marian Frances White's poetry. Eight poems in and I notice the first of many Marian-Frances-Whitisms (or MFWs). In the poem "Book Binders" lies the line "press our lips to hold our wor(l)d." Clever on many levels. There's of course the obvious; Could be read as "word" or "world" and still make sense. But the isolated "l" could be a reference to the "l" word. In case the cover didn't give it away, many of these poems are of a lesbian theme. I liked this word play. Word play is part of what makes me want to read poetry. But then in the next poem, i.e., "Body F(r)iction" I thought, "hmm, she's doing it again." And it subsequent poems there was "my/self", "which/witch", "to/get/her", "lov/h/er", "anot/her", "al/one", "li(n)es", "h(eat)", "m(out)h", "(h)ear", "me/m(or)y", and "in/stead".

Before I get accused of disguising yet another catalogue of words as a critique, I'll defend my argument by saying it becomes a little gimm/icky. But to be fair, even masters like e.e. cummings with his lack of capitalization, and Emily Dickinson with her dashes (-) at the end of lines could be said to have relied on gimmicks. I guess it's a matter of getting used to a poet's style- and having a style is important. Yet, it shouldn't be style over substance. And sometimes it feels like just that with White's poems. The best example of a MFW not working, in my opinion, is in the poem "Forget-Me-Nots" when she writes the phrase "...i will excavate the me/m(or)y of bare feet sliding..." I get what she's trying to do with the word "memory" and even appreciate the question surrounding the word- do memories belong to us? or do they define us? Unfortunately the gimmick destroys any rhythm and with its slashes and parentheses it becomes a problematic disruption to the flow of the poem. Again, maybe when one comes accustomed to her poetry and gets used to seeing brackets or breaks midword, it won't be as distracting. I'm not at that point yet.


chuck said...

um, er, ah...when does a gimmick open a door to a new vista...and when does a gimmick obscure a possible new vista?

gimmicks are useful when used with consideration...

John Mutford said...

I think I agree. Moderation is the key.