Archive for February, 2011

Cover image ©iStockphoto.com/ChuckSchugPhotography


The Suitable Girl by Michelle McGrane

Pindrop Press


The suitable girl wears many faces.  She is mythic, and she is contemporary.  She mourns.  She is sensual.  She walks on water.


I felt like a kid at Christmas when my copy of The Suitable Girl arrived in the mail.  I know Michelle McGrane is an excellent poet, because I’m a big fan of her work.  But this book even surpassed my expectations.


Edited by Jo Hemmant of Pindrop Press, the poems in The Suitable Girl are beautiful and powerful.  The often startling images are sharp and unique.


This collection of poems offers so much variety!  Whether you are interested in shorter pieces or prose poems, mythic voices or modern day scenes, you will find it all in The Suitable Girl.


As a poet, I cannot help but marvel at Michelle McGrane’s technique.  Her stanzas are well measured but don’t feel forced.  Her poems are musical, and she echoes sound throughout entire pieces.  The narrator’s voice is different in every poem, from a straight-talking beat style to elegant prose that rolls across the page.


But I’ll try not to bore you with my urge to give a nerdy, technical analysis.


Listen to her stories.


You will meet Madame Bovary in this book, as well as Black Oak’s Daughter.  There is also the story of Glauce’s bridal robe, poisoned by Medea.                 The Bee Man tells a story in eleven succinct lines. The Suitable Girl even sends postcards from the moon.


The voices in this collection are strong.  The dialect in ‘Terra Marique Potens’ is fantastic. The narrator is a force to be reckoned with, powerful on land and sea.  She gives birth aboard ship and then fires a muzzle at a “flinty crag of a man bawling like the divil hisself.”


All of the poems in The Suitable Girl are excellent.  Some of the stories are heartbreaking.  In Skin Offerings, the narrator describes a young woman’s anorexia and self-mutilation.  4:00 am tells the powerful story of a young mother who is battling for life.  She leaves her mud hut to walk twelve kilometres to a government clinic for treatment.  She hums a hymn and wears a gaily-patterned headscarf, an astounding symbol of her unbreakable spirit.


Other poems are humorous.  The Escape Artist, a “Lord of the Fleas”  runs off “with the ringmaster’s silver weimaraner.” One of my favorite shorter pieces is The Recalcitrant Muse, who fires up a cigarette and could use a drink and a few hours’ sleep.  This muse is late for an appointment with a middle-aged divorcée.  She is also a muse who realizes that “immortality doesn’t pay the bills.”


Did I say beautiful?  Well, take a look for yourself at the sample poem below.  The Suitable Girl has many faces.  Sometimes she whispers her stories.  Sometimes she speaks with her tongue in her cheek.  Sometimes she screams.  Each one of her voices should be read again and again.



She Walks On Water

by Michelle McGrane


The air is heavy with salt spray and kelp.

The seagull’s tongue is dumb.

Dark hair hides the face

of the madonna on the beach.


Hands like silver starfish

lift a long skirt, reveal pale knees;

a cerulean scarf flutters in the breeze.


She turns away from

the promenade’s ice-cream smiles

and waving kites,

shrugs off the dirty-weekend hotel

moored in the harbour’s embrace.


Her spirit becomes a sail.

Her eyes are the horizon.

Her bare, white limbs shine

with phosphorescence.

The stars lean over to plant kisses

on her forehead.


In the morning haze,

wisps of fog drifting in with the waves,

she walks on water.


A blue strand washes up on the sand

among splintered timbers, plastic wrappings,

sodden cigarette butts.

Perched on a guano-stained mast,

the seagull keeps her secret.


The above poem and quotes are © Michelle McGrane 2010 and used with permission.  Please contact Pindrop Press or the author for permission before reposting.



From Pindrop Press:

Michelle McGrane was born in Zimbabwe in 1974, spent her childhood in Malawi, and moved to South Africa with her family when she was fourteen. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is the author of Fireflies & Blazing Stars (2002) and Hybrid (2003). She lives in Johannesburg and blogs at Peony Moon.


To order The Suitable Girl, click HERE.

It is well worth the low price.


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A couple of dear folks will worry, so I should add a disclaimer with this one.  I wrote the original version of this poem when a loved one was first diagnosed with cancer.  That was years ago.  He’s fine now.  All checkups continue to be good.

Not everyone is so fortunate, and we are no better than they are.  I only share these stories because I am thankful.  Remembering is the least I can do to express my gratitude.




Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

It is the story of your life,

pinned on a screen, your insides

lit up, discussed in hushed tones

by a man who is late for a meeting.


He sees deficiency, fissures, cells.

You see your mother’s red hands,

a river sliding past summer cabins,

mildewed faces on window screens,


shafts of sunlight through cracks

on the day your daughter was born,

graduation caps, unpaid bills, a man

drinking cold tea in an unlit room.


This is not the denouement

you had written for yourself

at a creaky midnight desk

while counting the seconds

between rumbles of thunder.


It is a lie too soon, a white flash,

a pumping bloodroot,

a story with no resolution.

A black spot on a silent film.


The doctor clears his throat,

looks at the clock above the door

and asks if you have

any questions.


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Story Quilt

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

The women sew stories

at sunset on the porch,

an old wicker basket

full of fabric by their feet.


There’s a square of green

from the gingham dress

a girl wore when she first

kissed a boy by the river.


Here’s a gray head rag,

stained with sweat

by a grandmother who

plowed the jagged back

of this black mountain.


Those bits of blue denim

are a father’s overalls.

He lost a leg and died

working the railroad.


That piece is from

the wedding dress

mother made with

a white lace tablecloth.


This strip of yellow

was a blanket, dotted

with brown circles

of blood and covered

a chicken feather mattress

where babies were born.


Four bright pink ribbons

belonged to the twins

who came out holding hands.


A red checked apron

fed thirteen children

with two catfish

and three stale loaves.


Each piece, a meaning,

a patchwork of souls

threaded together

by generations

of callused fingers


on a front porch

between live oaks

and wisteria vines–


the lingering smell

of warm cornbread

from the oven.


Gold and purple sunset

stretched across the sky.




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