Marilyn R(uthe) Bowering

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M. Travis Lane

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 721

One of the most useful things poets can do for their art is to invent a speaker who creates in his or her or its point-of-view feelings, flesh, and world—the symbolic values of the poem…. Such poetry tends to be uncommonly strong and illuminating, and we have some fine examples of it in … One Who Became Lost, by Marilyn Bowering.

With the exception of a few excellent poems … ("Café" and "The Monastery of Hosios Louikas"), the best poems in [this book] … are not spoken by a poetic speaker who represents either the average human sensibility or even the average poetic speaker. Instead the speaker is woman-in-nature—a primitive, an animal, a witch, a goddess—some sort of natural, female force. Bowering [has] … an interest in recreating a point-of-view vitally female at the level of dream, totem, and myth. [She is] … rewriting the fairy tales, creating a world view without the dualism that has traditionally split the world into male-positive-aggressive and female-negative-passive. For [her] … nature is not that simply divided; both male and female alike are aggressor and victim, and for them nothing, not even the earth, is passive. (p. 156)

[One Who Became Lost is] a substantial and well-organized book divided into three coherently grouped sections…. Actually Bowering brings us two books, for her title, from the small central section, works also for the untitled first but not at all for the titled third section, Slave-Killers. The title section of One Who Became Lost, set in its center, does suggest for the first section the theme of the search for the original, primitive self and, for the third section, an aspect of what was found in this self. The title poem is a moderately good poem on the loss of childhood, but is preceded by a finer, longer untitled poem about inheritance, original sin, or the discovery of the ancestors and archetypes in the subconscious. The first section repeats in various terms, and not without reminiscence of Roethke, the themes of loss of identity, fear of loss of identity, loss of childhood, the drawing explorations into the worlds of darkness—the past, our dreams, and the fearful edges of our consciousness. (p. 157)

Bowering is very much interested in violence as part of the psyche, as part of what is nature in us. She is also [consciously interested] … in the hostilities of the man-woman relationship. But she does not limit her perceptions of her character's responses, and she does not make a simplified villian out of the Male or out of the Female. Her sense of reality prevents her from simplified emotions even as it tempts her towards extreme ones. And thus two problems, both of which require more from the reader than the reader, lazy fellow, is often willing to yield.

First, Bowering does wish to be free to deal with the expression of emotion that in reality is scream. Whether she spells it "ai" or "eee," it will sound right in the voice of any good actor and look a little odd on the page. The poems have to scream at these points; Bowering is right. If the reader is a good, well-behaved reader and reads these poems in order all the way through, by the time he or she comes to them, he or she will be sufficiently drawn into the material so that these screams will work. But the person standing in the bookstore idly dipping through these pages may not be so drawn. And, second, since Bowering builds complexly out of dream materials, the structure of her poems may be as inobvious as that of a dream; we tend to feel her meaning before we can attempt to paraphrase it; a casual reader may doubt there is structure at all.

Yet Bowering's poems are beautifully structured; they are not surrealist messes. Poems that speak through dream imagery rather than through rationalized description and commentary are structurally nearer to painting or music than to prose, and we look for their structure in terms of themes and variations rather than terms of argument. Or again, we can understand them as we do a film by Bergman or Fellini, with the back of our mind, trusting our instincts—this feels right. (p. 158)

M. Travis Lane, "'The Hidden Dreamer's Cry': Natural Force As Point-of-View," in The Fiddlehead, No. 112, Winter, 1977, pp. 156-60.∗

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