Monday, December 13, 2004

NEW! Review of Pam Brown

Dear Deliria by Pam Brown. Salt Publishing.

Reviewed by Naomi White

Pam Brown’s Dear Deliria, dating from 1970 to 2002, isn’t chronologically organized or grouped by original publication, thus offering a survey of Brown’s work without boxing in the pieces. Brown purposely leaves out an introduction, allowing her work to exist without commentary. This seems appropriate because of the work’s fascinatingly autobiographical feel. In “Eyes on Potatoes” she pulls the reader into a glimpse of her own life:
downloading Laurie’s poems
pages flutter off the printer tray
and get mixed up with bits of Bolton’s.
I walk out to look up at the vast sky
lit by a huge full moon     the night
is tranquil      everyone’s indoors watching
crap tv      the muffled sounds of soaps

However, unlike many so-called confessional poets, Brown doesn’t waste words. Rather, she appears anxious in her presentation of her life and thoughts. The last stanza of “The ing thing” is refreshing: “taking so long / to write the book-- / only to be / remaindered.” Because Brown writes about a poet struggling to finish her own thoughts, her poems are appealing and accessible. By outwardly looking at herself from a reader’s perspective, Brown avoids pretension and didactism. The normalcy and non-academic scene of “Montreal,” in which Brown writes, “I force myself to write this, / to stay awake        while doing so / in the public library on Saturday afternoon,” offers a fresh alternative to the stateliness of highbrow academia.

Despite Brown’s resistance to being pegged as an academic, her poems make a clear statement about her self-perception--as a poet first, as a woman and Australian second. Her audience seems to be at the forefront of her attention in many of her poems, as in “Eyes on Potatoes”: “but should I continue      my poem will be constructed / as ‘funny’ like my inclusion of some notes on a reading.” This self-conscious appeal to the reader to withhold judgment on her work is engaging because it plays into the confessional feel of Brown’s poetry. Her work also has a feminist slant, but the women she mentions in her work are almost always poets. For example, Alice Notley, like Brown, found a voice for "the new woman" in her own time, but her first aim was to make a poem rather than present a platform of social reform. Unlike Notley, however, Brown’s struggles do not come from gender inequality, but from an internal struggle to find the language she feels is necessary. In “Fifty-Fifty” she writes, “I am dimly / jealous of / Alice Notley ‘who now permanently lives / in Paris’; / something / I wish / my notes / might say.”

The subject matter of Brown’s poems is often entrenched in the routines of everyday life. She varies the setting, switching between the suburban/urban and the pastoral, and she refers to city life in “Sheer veneer:”
the biggest buildings
full of
chinless wonders

who drown
in their own
useless evenings

they move
like cows
in big tuxedos

Here, Brown develops a cynical tone through her unflattering images. The word “wonders” drips with sarcasm and disdain, especially following the unattractive modifier “chinless.” In the midst of the urban subject matter, she incorporates rural descriptors, such as describing the businessmen as cows. According to John Kinsella, in an interview with Brown in Jacket, “The mundane and the illuminated morph together textually in [Brown’s] work and the bricklayer is not superior to the musician, or vice versa.” Because the rural image of cows and the urban image of tuxedos are equally unpleasant, Brown does not setting one above the other.

The mundane holds power for Brown, and she devotes a considerable amount of time to it: mocking it, beautifying it, and showing it in her own daily life. “In Ultimo” takes vivid snapshots of daily urban life, playing with the notion of the value of everyday routine:
up to the third floor
for a lean
& a musing--
what colour’s my posture
what colour’s my posture

here’s the view
from the balcony --
grey and darker grey
brick wall          office
windows          computer
screens & tv screens
nearly always on

Brown finds energy in her use of dualites. She seems to struggle with opposing ideals of urban and rural, academic and domestic, foreign and familiar. Not only does she present opposing images, but her style creates another layer of duality. In “A life transcendent” Brown uses alliteration to enhance the duality: “between sips / of / porphyry pearl,” “facsimiles / float around / the firmament,” “place the poem.” Through the repetition in sounds, she furthers the idea of doubleness in the poem. To stand out against the echo of the alliteration, she also uses contrasting abstractions, such as “ you are / glad and sorry / all at once,” to emphasize the tension between two opposites. Through this, Brown avoids placing judgment and is able to find beauty in the contrasting ideas.

The intimacy and forward nature of Brown’s poetry is immediately inclusive. Even recreational readers of poetry will find pleasure in Dear Deliria, but it is by no means dumbed down or without deeper literary merit. Rather, Brown finds a distinct place that includes all readers, inviting them into her poems and, through her writing, her life.

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