Friday, July 07, 2006

Reader's Diary #121- Marian Frances White: Skinny Dipping (Finished)

Often when I see "An excellent first novel" in a book review, I think it could be a backhanded comment. It's like the critic is saying, "I liked it but it had lots of forgivable flaws." And then as a reader, it's hard not to look for said flaws. Occasionally, like in Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road, I'm even left resenting that being a first novel had even been brought up. (It was great no matter how few books Boyden had published before.) However, I'm going to eat my words and add the same disclaimer to Marian Frances White's Skinny Dipping; it's a fine collection of poetry, for her first.

No, I didn't fall entirely for her poems. The first section in particular (i.e.,"Open Iris") was the most problematic for me. I have already mentioned the overreliance on gimmicks. Also, the section felt overly sentimental and terribly cliched. It will come as no surprise that I haven't been to a lot of lesbian poetry readings, but if I was to try a satirize one I'd have it at a University graduate bar, tables topped with hummus dip and draught beer, and readings of poems such as Marian Frances White's "dictionaries do not define" or "destiny on the boston freeway". I hope all of this doesn't make me sound bigoted, because really I'm not. I just have a problem with things being too cliched and predictable. Take this line (out of context yes) from "dictionaries do not define": "I would not find comfort in this manmade world" or this stanza from "destiny on the boston freeway": "for fear destiny will return your call/ our bodies do not meet/ under the sheets, desire/ was always put on hold". Pretty lame, yes? Fortunately, the later sections weren't that bad. In fact, they were quite good.

Especially good are her poems about growing up in the section entitled "Pressure Cooking". In "Routines" White manages to define her mother by almost cataloguing her chores. There's a subtle sad judgment present, yet there's a reverence too.

Other standout poems include "A Shoulder Lifts A Foggy Haze" which steers away from the predictable glum of such weather, "Middle Cove Still Birth", and a tribute to Tommy Sexton.

In the majority of poems following those in the "Open Iris" section, White doesn't fall as often in cliches, sentimentality or gimmicks. It's as if while writing the latter sections she had matured some as a poet. Since Skinny Dipping, Marian Frances White has published a second book of poetry, Mind Your Eyes. With as much growth in a single book, I'd love to read those in her sophomore attempt.


John Mutford said...

I almost forgot- White also had a poem with Greek references. "Cutting The Dark From Night" mentions Aphrodite, Artemis, and Selene.

For any future poets: ENOUGH OF THE GREEK MYTHOLOGY ALREADY!!! (vlaka poets)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

John, should you ever consider starting a movement to eliminate excessive Greek mythology from modern literature, you can count on me for a campaign donation.

John Mutford said...

Funny you should mention that Barbara. I have started such a campaign. Donations of $100 or more gets you a button with a red line through a souvlaki.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

HA! Put me down for three!