Blood, Hook & Eye

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

We are, I hope, now permanently past the era of the “poetess,” that too recent time when all women poets seemed to have three names and to write with a delicacy appropriate to those rhythmic names, or, if they wrote with a vigor and original skill, were required to wear the tricornered hats of eccentricity or to brood over a private poetry not really meant for others to read. We are finally reading Gertrude Stein instead of talking about her or, worse, making her into cheap jokes; we are finally discovering the genuine in the poetry of Marianne Moore as well as the charm.

The danger for a young woman poet today is not that she will be forced back to the authoress section of our attention, but that she will be taken too seriously for the wrong reasons, that she will be studied and admired as a woman poet rather than just as a poet, that she will be praised for raising a woman’s voice rather than for extending and exploring the ground where only the imagination, the poetic imagination, may ever dare venture.

The fault is, of course, Sylvia Plath’s or Anne Sexton’s; or—and this is much closer to the truth—the fault lies with those readers and critics who love to probe the personal anguish and sharp confession of their poems and who insist that a woman’s place in the writing of poems is the back fence of gossip where she may confess her own fears and failings, her own hungers and cravings, her own emotional and very human nature, where we may eavesdrop and sit back smugly, saying that women’s lives are led on such a different level, on such an intensely emotional level, on such an excoriatingly honest level, that it is no wonder the poor things do themselves in so frequently. Perhaps we haven’t come so far after all.

All this is by way of saying that Dara Wier’s poems require that they be read and admired and discussed not as a woman’s poems, but as poems; not as a bid for poetic identity through gossip and confession, but as an expression of poetic entity by means of a poetry that is as fresh as its language is vigorous, a language honed to clean edges that cut to the bone and marrow of its subjects. Her language is personal and uniquely hers, with a diction and syntax that are startling and daring but which come to sound inevitable and undeniably right as you see them operate poem by poem. But her language is also an accumulation of voices, varied and vital—the voices of people caught in the eddies and floods of the blood’s turmoil, telling their stories, not so much confessing their secrets as confessing for us all.

The first poem in the book, set apart from the others as introduction, professes to be a poem told by someone “just / before she committed suicide,” and from that startling claim it moves on to play upon the commingling of lies and truth in art, in poems. The poem is spoken by listeners at a poetry reading (already a fair sample of how Dara Wier turns things inside out to make their double natures clean and clear). The poet’s parents are in the audience, not looking a bit like the poet, while the poet tells of “your brother who shot / himself, a likely story.”

Your mother rubs sleep from her eye,we think she is crying. Your fatheryanks on his tie.We are worried that what you sayis true.

That small poem, with all its doublings and double-dealings, its doubts and downright lies, teaches the reader who will listen how to read these poems, or any real poems: how we should not look for fact or the poet’s face or the poet’s family and past, how we should instead worry about the truth of the poems, the dark fact at the very marrow of our own bones or the bright vision that makes us leap up from our chairs ruffling our hair.

These poems, for all their linguistic wit and mental double vision, are filled with the sensuous details of living, the astonishing discoveries of all the senses caught in these words; the reader enters these scenes, sees them, hears them, touches them, even smells and tastes them, shares them in a way that only the best poems ever allow, physically and fully. A poem like “When the Skins Fall Apart” must surely be one of the most sensuous poems in the language:

The fertilizer plant grinds fish into stink.In the icebox a dove carcass cools while Mommaboils pumpkin in a castiron pot.The house upfront is full of drying garlicwhere you wait for the boy from Buras.River sand’s as soft as any barnbed.You two roll in the garlic bulbs shaking the skin to pieces.Momma stuffs shirts in starch clabber, twists theminto clubs and puts them aside for ironing.

The poem goes on to describe the smell of sperm, the starch drying under...

(The entire section is 2111 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Booklist. LXXIV, September 15, 1977, p. 133.

Hudson Review. XXX, Winter, 1977-1978, p. 576.

Times Literary Supplement. November 18, 1977, p. 1354.