The Dagger Between Her Teeth by Jennifer LoveGrove

Dagger Between Her TeethThis was Jennifer LoveGrove’s first poetry collection and was published by ECW Press in 2002. I read it because I accidentally discovered it on my poetry shelf and it was a complete surprise to me that I owned a copy. I knew the author’s name because I had recently read and reviewed her first novel, Watch How You Walk and been very impressed by it. (see my review by clicking on the archives on the left side of this page for February 2014).

Here’s some of what the author had to say about her collection at http://jenniferlovegrove.wordpress.com/the-dagger-between-her-teeth/ : “It features burning barns, drunken Christmases, scars, hospitals, serial killers, and, eventually, the possibilities of self preservation and hope. Powerfully topical, it confronts notions of violence, both physical and emotional, by focusing on a woman’s strength of will and capacity for ferocity. In The Dagger Between Her Teeth, I resurrect and reinvent the dramatic young lives of two eighteenth-century pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.”

Do you know about these women? It seems they were the only women pirates in the Western Hemisphere. Anne Bonney (sometimes Bonny) was born in Ireland, March 8, 1689. Her mother was a servant to William Cormac, her father and a lawyer by profession. The family immigrated to a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1600s. Stories have it that at age 13 years, Anne stabbed a servant girl with a table knife. She married James Bonny who was possibly more interested in her father’s estate than in Anne: Anne’s father disowned her destroying Bonny’s hopes no doubt. The Bonnys moved to the Bahamas  prior to 1718 and Anne left James Bonny for Captain Jack Rackham.

Mary Reade was born in Plymouth, England; her father was a sailor who never returned to port. Her mother disguised her as a boy and went to her mother-in-law in London for financial support for the child. The grandmother pledged a crown a week and Mary continued to pass as a boy. She serve as a footboy to a French woman; on a man-of-war; and in both a foot regiment and a horse regiment in Flanders. She eventually married a soldier and ran an inn in Holland until her husband dies. She reverted to a man’s role and hired on a merchant ship which was captured by pirates and, in turn, was captured by Captain Jack Rackham’s crew and quickly became fast friends with Anne Bonney.

Legend has it that Anne and Mary were “fierce hell cats” with reputations for violent tempers and ferocious fighting, more ruthless and bloodthirsty than any other crew members. They were captured in 1720 by a British navy sloop – the man-of-war Albion – and taken to Jamaica for trial. (see Wikipedia for “The Legend of Anne & Mary”).

It seems both Anne and Mary “pleaded their bellies” and were granted mercy because they were pregnant. It is believed that Mary died in prison of a fever or during childbirth but there is no record of Anne’s release or of her execution. There has been much speculation suggesting that her father ransomed her or that she returned to her husband or that she changed her name and continued life as a pirate was bandied about but no evidence was ever found to support any of these theories.

Part One of LoveGrove’s book includes the following poem about Anne’s early teen years entitled With a Carving Knife:

Meanwhile, your birth rattles the town,
averted eyes – you’re stashed
with the servants’ gossip.
Tongues flickering: the lawyer’s
bastard girl got some temper.

You steal kitchen knives and duel
stable boys.  Nick their pocked cheeks
and laugh, thirteen years old, a glaring head
taller, illegitimate daughter.

Daddy creeps down midnight
hallways to the maid’s room, until
one night he peels back her quilt
and finds instead his clever wife.

The kitchen girl, mouse eyes beading –
Nobody wants you here, anyway,
pink face bloated with smirks –
You’re a disgrace.

A hot palm splits her
lips; you warned her
didn’t you? But still she squeaks,
You’re daddy doesn’t want you
loud and ugly as a boy.


Half the morning spent shining
that carving knife you slide
from your skirts, her belly
spreads into bright sunbursts
and your red hair laced tight
with spiders, sugar and spice,
Irish eyelashes edged in ice.

And describing a scene in a bar before Anne marries James Bonny:

The barmaid tries toss her
to the storm,
instead loses two
front teeth in the scuffle,
split from her jaw,
rattling Anne’s skirts.

The night Anne marries James Bonny
she gives him a necklace, both talisman
and warning, two teeth
strung up, dangling.

Part Two begins with a quote from The Book of Lilith as well as one from Adrienne Rich and Part Three begins with a quote from Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips”. Here’s a poem I liked from Part Three called Bad Association:

When I was ten my great-grandma wasn’t talking
to my grandma because she wasn’t talking to my
aunt who we weren’t allowed
to talk to because she got

disfellowshipped for divorcing
my uncle, a truck driver
who used to come into the house to
get money for the hookers
waiting in the truck in the driveway.

At the meetings, the elders would tell us
that people who aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses
are bad association –
because they do things that are pagan
like celebrate Christmas and birthdays.

In the Bible, the only birthday party
is when John the Baptist
gets his head cut off.

Part Four begins with a quote from Janette Turner Hospital’s The Last Magician: “It was as though they could both smell tumult coming, it was as though Cat stank of something that was either cataclysm or omnipotence and they knew it.” I really enjoyed the first poem in this section called Sabrina. It begins:

Wore hot plastic colours
high heels
& a peacock feather grin.
Brought cleavage to librarian
& taught me more than the Dewey decimal system.

Needless to say, the writer’s mother didn’t want her to visit Sabrina “after she moved away”.

I haven’t much practice at reviewing poetry but I know this much: I like many of these poems and I keep getting drawn back to them and discovering new things each time. As Word, put it in September 2002: “LoveGrove goes for the jugular. There is no question…Yes, the dagger between her teeth is sharp indeed.”

 

The Essential Basho translated by Sam Hamill

On my desk for some time now has been a yellow filing card with the following written on it with a marking pen:

“I do not seek to follow
in the footsteps of those of
old. I seek only what they
sought.”

These words are a translation of the words of the Japanese poet, Basho, who was born in 1644 in Ueno, Iga Province, 30 miles south of Kyoto, Japan. He was the son of Matsuo Yozaemon, a low-ranking samurai.  Basho had a samurai name also: it was Matsuo Munefusa.

The Essential Basho was brought to my attention by a fellow reader who posted about it on Good Reads and I immediately borrowed a copy from the local library.

The Essential Basho was translated by Sam Hamill and begins with Basho’s travelogue,Essential Basho Narrow Road to the Interior. A map of Basho’s journeys and a Chronology are included as well as a very informative and helpful Translator’s Introduction. Basho had “long dreamed of crossing the Shirakawa Barrier into northern Honshu, the country called Oku which was immediately north of the city of Sendai. He started his journey in May of 1689. It was interesting to read that he “carried extra nightwear in his pack along with his cotton robe or yukata, a raincoat, calligraphy supplies, and, of course, hanamuke, departure gifts from well-wishers, gifts he found impossible to leave behind.”

Sam Hamill says the diary is much more than a travel journal. “It’s form, haibun, combines short prose passages with haiku…Basho completely redefined haiku and transformed haibun. These accomplishments grew out of arduous studies in poetry, Buddhism, history, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and some very important Zen training.”

Basho was a student of Saigyo, a Buddhist monk-poet who lived from 1118 – 1190 and was the most prominent poet in an imperial anthology titles Shinkokinshu. It was from Saigyo that Basho learned the importance of “being at one with nature”.

Basho says Hamill “is not looking outside himself”, rather “he is seeking that which is most clearly meaningful within, and locating the “meaning” within the context of juxtaposed images that are interpenetrating and interdependent.”

“The poet strives for the quality called amari – no – kokoro, meaning that the heart/soul of the poem must reach far beyond the words themselves, leaving an indelible aftertaste.”

Basho is among the most literate poets of his time and his ork contains literary Chinese and Buddhist allusions and literary echoes called honkadori (borrowed or quoted lines and paraphrases). Hamill’s footnotes explain many of the latter. Basho also felt a deep connection to history. Many of his journeys included ancient temples where he paid homage to historical and literary and Buddhist personages.

Here are a few samples of Basho’s haiku:

The bush warbler
in a grove of bamboo sprouts
sings of growing old.

The old cherry tree’s
final blossoms are her last
cherished memory,

With a warbler for
a soul, it sleeps peacefully,
this mountain willow.

And from the travel diaries:

“Autumn winds filled my heart with a longing to see the full moon rising over Mount Obasute, a ragged peak where, in ancient times, Sarashina villagers abandoned their aging mothers to die among the stones.”

“To my left, a sheer cliff fell thousands of feet into a rushing river, leaving my stomach churning with every step of my horse.”

On a lighter note, I was impressed by the fact that this man and his helpers wore simple sandals to walk in and relied on people he met on the way to replace them when they were worn out.

He wrote: “With no real home of my own, I wasn’t interested in accumulating treasures. And since I travelled empty-handed, I didn’t worry much about robbers.”

To read this book is to travel to another dimension almost and you might find your pace slowing as you walk along with Basho. My thanks to Cynthia for the recommendation.

 

Arguments with the Lake/Poetry by Tanis Rideout

The AUTHOR’S NOTE on page 1 of this collection is a very succinct explanation of what she wanted to accomplish and so I repeat it here:

“Marilyn Bell and Shirley Campbell were teenage swimmers, competing along the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950s. In 1954, at age sixteen, Marilyn became the first person to swim across Lake Ontario, beating out champion American swimmer Florence Chadwick.  In 1955 and ’56 Shirley attempted the lake crossing twice, but failed each time. Marilyn went on to swim the English Channel and the Strait of Juan de  Fuca, then retired, married, and became a schoolteacher. Shirley lost her initial glory and for all intents and purposes disappeared from view.

These poems explore an imagined relationship between two girls, two women, and Lake Ontario. They are entirely the imagination of the author.”

Marilyn Bell returned to Toronto and the CNE in 2004 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her swim. She is in her mid seventies now and apparently enjoys the water but is dealing with a painful back condition that prevents her from swimming.

Shirley Campbell was nicknamed the Fergus Flash when she began racing but her life did not go as well in her later years. In 1953 she won $1650 and a trophy for Long Distance Swimming from the Egyptian Federation. When the Sports Hall of Fame on the CNE grounds closed, the statue went missing and in that period it was broken and the base was separated from the top. Campbell was reunited with the top part of her trophy 59 years after she won it.

I listened to Marilyn Bell’s crossing of the lake in 1954 on the radio and although I no longer remember the details I do remember how intensely we were focused on each new report from her coach, I think his name was Gus Ryder.

Here’s one of the poems titled The Fear of Silence:

A schoolyard dare. Patriotic indignation. A visit to The Star.
An American shouldn’t be the only one to challenge the lake.
Marilyn asked permission. Politesse and a smile.

The shoreline changes more than its citizens. The city
has leeched into the lake. Front Street really was the front.Arguments with the Lake
Fishermen docked at the market’s doors. It is as though
we want to live in that water – press into it, fill it up,
like empty hours filled now with digital detritus

and the fear of silence. Flo gave up before dawn, puking
in the white noise of tossing lake. While we creep ever closer.

And here’s another one about the lake itself titled The Pressure:

At thirty-three-feet the lake is the weight of another
atmosphere bearing down. On the beach a column
the depth of my body weighs two point two tonnes.
Stare at the shore. Point past horizon.

Maybe this is the weight of water after all? More than
metaphor, or a way to find the level. On Saturn’s moon,
another Lake Ontario shores up against a frozen world,
cradled by its own tides. I’m hovering there. Just
a little heavier than here on earth.

Here’s the Jury’s Citation for the CBC Literary Award which is on the back cover:

“Aguments with the Lake is a coming-of-age poetic odyssey told in mythic and sensuous language.  In these verses the poet engages the element of water to discover the many meanings of (her) life. McEwanesque in scope, Arguments with the Lake invokes in the reader a sense of timelessness and breathless wonder.”

Onion Man by Kathryn Mockler

The first poetry book I have included on this blog. I am pleased to say that I enjoyed it. It is from the perspective of an eighteen year old woman working in a corn packing plant for the summer in the late 1980s. She has a boyfriend, Clinton, and they both work in the warehouse section of the plant where women do not generally work. The onion man works there also.

I found it interesting that three London, Ontario high schools are named – Central, CCH and Beal – two of which I worked at for short periods of time. This makes it a perfect tool for creative writing classes especially in the London area.

Deceptively simple. Flows smoothly like a story or a diary. Conversational at times, reflective at other times. Deals with issues of gender and class in the workplace, family pressures, educational choices and boyfriends.

I think people who never read poetry might be surprised at what a fun read this is and the memories and discussions it might generate.

 

 Onion Man

Clinton thinks

that working

is better than

being in high

school.  I don’t

agree at all,

but if I tell him

I don’t mind

high school

he’ll think I’m

conforming.

 

Some people like London,

I say. Some people think it’sKathryn Mockler

a nice place to live.   -Like

who? he asks.  -Like

immigrants I say.   -I bet if

they were born here they

wouldn’t.  I bet they’d think

it was just another shitty town.

Kathryn Mockler teaches poetry and screen writing at the University of Western Ontario. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and her BA in Honours English and Creative Writing from Concordia University.