Susan Musgrave Mary Jane Edwards - Essay

Mary Jane Edwards

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Red, black, white, skulls, playing cards, and a strawberry decorate the cover of Susan Musgrave's grave-dirt and selected strawberries and introduce some themes and images which help shape each of the volume's three parts: "Gravedirt," "Kiskatinaw Songs," and "Selected Strawberries." The last is a collection of proverbs, definitions, poems, etc. about strawberries; under the heading "The genius, wit and spirit of a strawberry are discovered in its proverbs," for example, Musgrave alters Dollabella's comment in Dryden's All for Love that "Men are but children of a larger growth" to "Men are but strawberries of a larger growth." The effect of such changes is amusing and the idea is clever, but to me "Selected Strawberries" lacks the kind of wit that informs and illuminates as it amuses and surprises. The second part, "Kiskatinaw Songs," is a series of poems based on West Coast Indian lore, and the first part "Gravedirt," is a collection of poems which, like the Indian songs, use simple, strong rhythms and elemental images and explore such basic themes as love, sex, and death. The most moving poems in both parts are those that deal with sex and love, particularly from a woman's point of view…. [The] range of subject matter, form, and imagery in grave-dirt and selected strawberries creates an extremely varied landscape. The elemental power of some of these poems, furthermore, makes me think that … Susan Musgrave holds out the … promise of developing her landscape into a complete archetypal vision of men, women, and their world. (p. 43)

Mary Jane Edwards, in The Canadian Forum, August, 1974.