Susan Musgrave Marya Fiamengo - Essay

Marya Fiamengo

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Susan Musgrave is vibrantly self-engrossed. She is not careful; she is often careless, but spontaneously, valiantly, vividly so. Miss Musgrave is a young poet and [Songs of the Sea-Witch] is a young woman's book, but there is no mistaking the authentic voice of an emerging poet. Precision of observation, concreteness of language, vitality of imagery, imaginative power, all these Susan Musgrave abundantly displays.

                My ribs are torn
                like old whores' petticoats.

she writes in "Exposure"; and in "Jan. 6th":

              The long days mate with
              the nude on the calendar.
              I have packed time like a suitcase
              and now there is nothing left to do
              but organize my boredom.

Miss Musgrave's is a narrow canvas, but while highly personal it is no mere embroidery frame. She has the ability to evoke landscapes, but she is no nature pantheist. Her land-scapes become a metaphor for a personal vision which mirrors an emotional, moral and intellectual state.

Not all Miss Musgrave's poems are equally successful. Parts of the title poem, "Songs of the Sea-Witch" are uneven. She might have been more selective; the confessional tone becomes occasionally repetitive; "North Sea Poem" repeats much of what "Mackenzie River, North" says. However, Miss Musgrave's is a young talent and I am inclined in her case to agree with Blake that this road of excess may yet lead to the palace of wisdom. (pp. 104-05)

Marya Fiamengo, in Canadian Literature, Summer, 1972.

Dreams, ghosts, magical presences and the whimsical-weird are the properties of Susan Musgrave's poems [in Entrance of the Celebrant]. They make up a bit of a witch's brew, in fact, in which the contents are arbitrary and the tone not as spell-binding (or bewitching) as it probably intends to be:

                   I share you with beetles,
                   I share you in my bones.
                   Bite into me and
                   open your mind to blood.
                                (p. 10)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), January 5, 1973.