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Cover image ©iStockphoto.com/ChuckSchugPhotography

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Listen to her stories.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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She Walks On Water

by Michelle McGrane

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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.

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Hands like silver starfish

lift a long skirt, reveal pale knees;

a cerulean scarf flutters in the breeze.

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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.

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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.

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In the morning haze,

wisps of fog drifting in with the waves,

she walks on water.

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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.

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

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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.

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To order The Suitable Girl, click HERE.

It is well worth the low price.

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Beautifully and Wonderfully Made

What Naomi Told Her Daughter

When the Kids at School

Called Her a Half-Breed

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder.

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Take these roots.

Chew them slowly.

They are close to bone,

sinew, tissue, womb.

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Braid them in your hair.

Taste the ticking wood,

the synchronicity of cells.

Watch them softly twist

through slices of moon.

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No microscope can show

the rings they carve

in your spine, the humming

of particles—each piece

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a moving world, a color

singing on the tips

of a blind man’s fingers.

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This legacy

is rhizome,

a curling inward,

an umbilical cord

stretching back

across oceans.

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Cut them and they

will grow fourfold.

Fight and they will

tighten around your soul.

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Listen to the pumping

of rocks that rumble

underground, the lift

of concrete, a drop

of hot wild seeds

in the dark wet earth.

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Take these veins.

Give them birth.

Let them birth you.

Melt this twisting river

on your tongue.

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You will become

that woman,

cypress strong, covered

in the warmth of blood,

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turning to root

only you can name.

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Carolina Cypress Swamp by Julie

Spider hanging out – by Julie

North Carolina Cypress by Julie

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For lack of a better term, I’m calling this one a short story. It’s really more of a sketch. Maybe a rant. I met this woman and her little girl this week, and I wonder what will happen to the girl in a few years. I’ve never seen a more miserable eight-year-old in my life.

They were part of a caravan of mothers and daughters on their way across the country to some kind of beauty pageant.  Nope.  Little Miss Sunshine this ain’t. 

The big topic of discussion among the mothers was what product to buy to spray on the little girls’ asses to keep their bathing suits from riding up.  Little girls’ asses!  I’m still reeling from that one.   

Mothers.. Please.. I’m begging you. .Stop. .

There are enough screwed up women in the world already.

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An Ungrateful Daughter

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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…..All I ever wanted to do was help that girl. The money I have spent on her! Ballet, tap, jazz, gymnastics. All those cute little outfits at two hundred bucks a pop. A professional makeup artist. On my salary. Running around to the local events. Then County.. Regional.. State. .All those trips in sweaty vans with all those no-talent brats and their snooty mothers. I worked overtime, on my hands and knees, to pay for those contests. Virginia, Texas, California—my little girl won them all. Without even trying.

…..What a beautiful baby she was. On day one, I looked into those big blue eyes and saw something special. A shining star above all the rest. It was like God said to me, “Jennifer, I took your mother when you were five. I gave you a drunk, no account father. I stole your childhood and made you work like a mule. You had to drop out of high school before your sixteenth birthday. You married a man you didn’t love to get away from your father. But now I’m going to reward you for all that heartache. I’m giving you the perfect little girl.”

…..My girl could sing like an angel. She looked like one, too. Everybody on both sides of my family has frizzy brown hair. But my girl was a real blonde. Golden. Corkscrew curly blonde hair bouncing around those sweet pink cheeks. People couldn’t stop admiring her. And not just family, either. Total strangers stopped us in the street to ooh and ahh.

…..Then she had to go and get chunky. Sure, every girl has an awkward stage, somewhere along about ten or eleven. But no matter how many calories I counted, no matter how many exercise classes I enrolled her in, that girl just kept eating nonstop. Out of spite. Nobody in their right mind unwraps a stick of margarine and eats it like an ice cream cone. But she did. It doesn’t matter how much makeup you put on a pig, well…chunky girls don’t make professional cheer squad.

…..Then there are the years I don’t even want to think about. Other women got to take pictures of their cute teenage daughters in strapless homecoming gowns. I watched my daughter stagger in the house, reeking of smoke and alcohol. If she even came home at all. Those weirdos she hung around with changed her. “If you lay down with dogs,” I tried to tell her. But she ended up in juvenile detention, no matter what I said. Then there went more money for lawyers.

…..And the purple hair. Oh, God! The night she shaved it all off and told me…her own mother…to go to hell. It was like the devil was standing in my living room, blowing smoke out of her nose. Then all that money I spent on all those shrinks. That fancy mountain retreat where they said they’d cure her. She ended up finding more drugs there than she did on the street.

…..Now she finally decides to get her act together. Thirty two years old. Still ungrateful. Still rolls her eyes and snorts when I open my mouth. I guess every mother has crosses to carry. Believe me, I’ve heard a lot worse on talk shows. Kids see too much violence on TV and those video games. Drugs are everywhere. It’s a wonder any of them ever come out okay.

…..They’ve got her on some new nerve pills, and that has helped a lot. She still looks pretty good in makeup, considering she’s over thirty. As for all the things she could have done, well, there’s no need crying over spilled milk. Her ship has sailed.

…..At least we can laugh nowadays. We go shopping. I buy her nice ladies’ dresses or we get botafirm facials done at the mall. It makes us feel like young girls again. Today, we’re having the baby’s portrait taken at a professional studio. She’s an auburn haired beauty. Only the best for my granddaughter. Now that one—she’s my real heart.

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