Saturday, November 15, 2008

Open Slowly by Dayle Furlong

When I'm in the mood to read poetry, I generally stick with my old favorites: Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath. I'm always looking for a good collection of contemporary poetry, but I'm picky. I don't want a book of greeting-card rhymes, nor do I want the poems to be so complex that it's impossible to extract any meaning.

Open Slowly by Canadian poet Dayle Furlong (published by Tightrope Books) exceeded my expectations and earned a place on the shelf displaying my worn Dickinson anthology.

Open Slowly is divided into three sections. The first, Impossible Permanence, features many poems about youth and many images of nature. What I like best about Open Slowly is that the poems offer a narrative, and Furlong's imagery is vivid.

In "Bite the Wind," Furlong shows a little girl questioning man's destruction of nature:

She's quick for a seven-year-old, notions of revenge taut:
'If you cut trees for paper,' she says,
'Paper will get you back and cut your fingers.'

Got it all figured out, passive paper: sly, full of cunning slits
siphoning into gentle skin. (page 14)

I love the imagery in "The Ceremony":

First trickles, innocent fat flakes,
arrive like the unpinned strands of a winter bride's hair
flirtatious coils wrapping themselves around branches
slyly. (page 26)

The second section, Tonic & Brevity, appears to have more sensual, harsh, and dark images. Here are my favorite lines of the poem bearing the same name, and there is a sort of beauty to them:

I'd wear pretty dresses
and meet men from big cities

but you, my rural troubadour,
are the one in the end--the one who
loves me softly. (page 37)

The harshness is evident in "You Were Here," which opens with:

Leaves, giant tongues
veins plump--forked lightning bolts (page 39)

Here is another example of Furlong's ability to pull you into the poem and visualize it. In "Two Graces," she writes:

There are moments when the older woman's confidence
flattens against her skull
like wet tissue
deodorant stains like dry onion skins cling
to the mid-section of her blouse:
she wears hurry and fear on her waist. (page 51)

The darkest poem in the collection is "Say Uncle," in which a girl is sexually abused by her uncle.

He made many messes with her on mattresses
and was sent to prison where he lay
night after night on a single bed
--stiff as a backbone. (page 49)

The final section of the book, Litany of Desire, is about just that: desire and love. In "Wood & Nails," Furlong writes:

On your salary we'll never have a large house
you tell me you'll build me one
with your own hands and you
squeeze my thighs and hover over me, an arched
roof. (page 65)

Here's an even better example from my favorite poem in Open Slowly, "Litany of Desire":

you will enjoy me as
blessed and savage
as I tumble head first into you

you'll teach me how to use an ellipsis
so that nothing is left out
or unsaid between us-- (page 68)

I've never been any good at intellectually dissecting poetry. I can't discuss rhythm, form, or meter; I just know what I like when I hear it. I love to read poetry aloud, and in Open Slowly, the words are simple, sensual, and beautiful. I have no idea what Furlong's inspiration was for these poems or what she wanted readers to take from her words, but I had no problem coming up with my own interpretation. Open Slowly is contemporary poetry at its finest, accessible to the average reader while still providing much to ponder.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Open Slowly from Tightrope Books for review purposes.


Jeannie said...

I'm a little old-fashioned when it comes to poetry: I like poems with a little bit of a rhyme (not silly-cute rhyming though). I'm not sure if this is my thing. I did get a strong sense of imagery from the passages you chose to highlight though, which is a good thing.

I'm really glad you enjoyed the book. Maybe it'll become one of your new "old favorites". :D

The Bookworm said...

Emily Dickinson is my favorite too.
This sounds like a geat book of poetry.

I cant dissect poetry either, I just know what I like when I read it.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I think the best kind of poetry is when you can read it and know you like it without having to dissect it. I don't read as much poetry as I used to (when in school) but I do like it on occasion and the bits you shared are really beautiful. Walt Whitman is one of my favorites--I really like Sylvia Plath as well (although she makes me think a little bit more).

Anonymous said...

jeezzz! I love those lines that you have printed here!

I love poetry- and like you... I dnt like much hard stuff-- where half of the time i m thinking whether my thinking is right lol!

so i love poetry thats straight forward -- with a tinge of magical touch and loads of metaphors :)

and i like what i read here! i want i want this one :))

Serena said...

Sounds like a great book of poetry. i can't wait to get to it next month! Thanks for letting me borrow this one!

Ladytink_534 said...

I'm not big on contemporary poetry at all but I love Robert Frost and W. B. Yeats.

Shana said...

Anna, your take on poetry sounds exactly like mine (though I'd LIKE to know more about the more technical aspects!)

This sounds very good!


Anna said...

Jeannie: I like rhymes, but they have to be subtle. There was a girl in the writing group I belonged to at work (which has since disbanded) who did a really good job with rhymes!

Naida: I wish I paid more attention in all those poetry classes I took in college! I remember having to write a poem in iambic pentameter for an assignment, and that was tough! When I wrote poetry (long ago, I'm afraid), I just let the muse take me. I never cared for all the formalities.

Trish: I should read more Whitman. I never liked his stuff in college, but I find that things I didn't like before I can appreciate now that I'm older. I love how Plath makes you think, sort of like Tori Amos lyrics.

Veens: I hope you get a chance to read this volume. I don't mind poetry that makes me think, I just don't like when it's too abstract and I can't even form my own interpretation, never mind try to figure out what the poet intended!

Serena: You're welcome! I can't wait to read your review. You're better at dissecting poetry than I am!

Ladytink: I haven't read much Yeats, but I won a collection of his poems from Serena's blog during National Poetry Month, and I hope to read it in the new year.

Shana: I don't read much poetry these days, but I enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

LOVE Tori Amos--totally agree with you.

Anna said...

Trish: Tori's great! I'm so glad you're a fan; I was hoping you'd understand what I was getting at!

RebekahC said...

This sounds like a good book. I'm a huge fan of poetry, but like you I just prefer to read it and not have to study it to the degree of being able to discuss it.

I'm going to look for this book.
Thanks for the review.

Anna said...

Rebekah: Glad you enjoyed the review. I hope you like the book, too!

Dead Robot said...

Hi Anna,

Your review is up on MBE site now. Sorry it took so long!


Anna said...

Ted: Thanks!