The voices of Mrs. Tiresias, Mrs. Faust, Mrs. Quasimodo and other wives wittily recast myth and history from a woman's point of view in the pages of Manchester-based Duffy's fifth collection. Self-contained Penelope is not waiting for her Odysseus; frustrated Mrs. Sisyphus is married to a workaholic; Pygmalion's statue, tired of being pestered by her groping suitor, "changed tack/ grew warm, like candle wax/ kissed back"--and after sex gets dumped. But while Duffy's revisionist dramatic monologues are rife with clever twists, this material has been well mined by such poets as Alta, Margaret Atwood and Alicia Ostriker. Even references to Viagra, sheep-cloning and Monica Lewinsky seem an updating of Transformations (1971), Anne Sexton's deadpan fairy tales studded with cultural references, with the poems trapped in a similarly polarized conception of gender relations. Thus Thetis is brutalized in a new way each time she changes form--man is cross-bow to her albatross, charmer to her snake, fisherman to her mermaid--and to Queen Herod, the Christ child is simply a threat to her infant girl: he's "The Wolf. The Rip. The Rake. The Rat./The Heartbreaker. The Ladykiller. Mr. Right." The luckiest in love is Mrs. Beast, married to a devoted creature that's hung like a mule, and just as hardworking: "And if his snot and trotters fouled/ my damask sheets, why, then, he'd wash them. Twice." The flippant tone elicits chuckles, but one imagines these characters would've come a longer way by now, baby. (Apr.) FYI: Duffy's anthology Time's Tidings: Greeting the 21st Century includes 50 contemporary poets, each of whom is represented by a poem of his or her own on "time," and by a favorite poem on the same subject. (Anvil [Dufour, dist.], $18.95 paper 160p ISBN 0-85646-313-2). Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Oddly surprised and invigorated by the discovery that "no anthology had focused on the theme of time in poetry," Duffy has attempted to shore up the gap, gathering a collection of poems by 50 contemporary poets (English, Irish and Scottish), in which each was invited to submit his own favorite poem on the topic. This gives us 100 poems altogether, a reassuringly round number for what is, in fact, a very uneven collection. Such a result might have been predicted by the editor. The size of the abstraction is obviously too large: "Ever the Everest among concepts," was how Merrill measured it in his poem "Time." Here, the selected poems are so eclectic in their treatment of the theme that the juxtapositions, instead of stimulating, merely bewilder. Elegies and laments predominate, but they are made to cohabit with the eerie enthusiasms of Lawrence's "New Year's Night" and the low wit of John Agard's "How Laughter Made the Clock Smile." In her introduction Duffy seems resigned to the thought that her hodge-podge will not bear the stamp of any presiding intelligence, but believes this flaw more than compensated for by "the curiously catalytic process by which a poet's choice would often reveal something new or concealed about their own work." This is an interesting strategy if the editor can rely on the reader's familiarity with each of the poet's �uvre, but since most of these poets are not widely readespecially not on these shoresthe gambit founders. For example, the relationship between Henry Graham's "Mal" and his chosen poem (Rimbaud's "Barbare") is foggy atbest.What Rimbaud's poem has to do with Time is cloudier still. There are the occasional minor successes. To read Yeats' hermetic quatrain "There" after the dizzying colloquialisms of Muldoon's "As" gives the former poem a new jauntiness and unsuspected lilt. More often, however, the pairings are only obfuscatory and puzzling; the collection's scattered points of interest cannot redeem its wider failures.