Marilyn Dumont. that tongued belonging (Kegedonce Press 2007).
This is Dumont’s third book, & it dances on that edge of casual documentary & autobiographical lyric presence. In that sense, it is not formally innovative, but it does continue her radical exploration of Metis inheritance & personal affect. She has arranged the poems so as to move from a series that uncovers aspects of her Cree heritage & satirically exposes the cultural impositions that constructed her ‘half-breed’ history through a sequence about middle aged love & loss to a final series of poems based on her Writer-in-Residence time at the University of Windsor, where she could see both ecological & cultural degradation on the river joining Canada to the U S, Windsor to Detroit (before the recession of 2008, but with what’s almost a precognition of what’s to come).
The first, title, poem addresses her complex relation through English to the Cree that she never knew: ‘Cree survives in the words’; ‘in a few borrowed sounds of English / the nerve of Cree remains.’ It’s an intriguing concept, & perhaps explains what some readers might feel are small infelicities of grammar & tone in many of the poems, which yet offer a taste of ostranenie, a bit of linguistic refusal that makes what appear to be straightforward poetic commentary into more eccentric & interesting lyrics. There’s also the humour tinged with anger that fuels such poems as ‘this, if for the wives,’ which takes Governor Simpson’s descriptions of his, unnamed, aboriginal ‘country wives’ as ‘bit of brown’ & ‘copper beauties,’ & turns them into praise, for all the work that guaranteed the British men’s survival as well as their sexual allure. Other poems praise ‘the breed women who raised me’ & ‘what older sisters are good at,’ among other things, including the almost epic list in ‘she carries the Pope in her purse.’
The middle of that tongued belonging belongs to a series of poems querulously seeking to understand ‘the truth about love and distance.’ As explorations of ‘mature romance,’ these do their slightly ironic work successfully. Dumont utilizes both a short line & a near-prose-poem format throughout, & in some of the small narrative of love & loss here, the fragmented prose works well. It also serves her well in some of the pieces about the slowly degrading landscape she finds in & around Windsor & Detroit. But she also works the shorter line in some of these pieces, such as ‘the shape of each lie,’ a stark inquisition of ‘our faith:/ wages, contracts, / and the big 3 auto-industry,’ which she evokes as a faith in things unseen & blindness to the ecological destruction we do see. These pieces raise the old questions about didacticism, but at their best achieve a lyric rage that works.
that tongued belonging strives for accessibility, perhaps a bit too well for some readers, but a genuine poetic desire propels Dumont’s lyric explorations, &, coming as she does from a very specific context she has important things to tell us.