By Maureen Hynes
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Marrow, Willow, Maureen Hynes third collection of poems stays true to its title: it goes deep while remaining flexible. It’s a bit different than her first two collections Rough Skin, winner of the Gerald Lampert award for Best First Book of Poetry in 1995, and Harm’s Way published in 2001. Hynes, the current poetry editor for Our Times: Canada’s Independent Labour Magazine, wrote from a hardcore feminist and leftist place in her previous books. Working class themes ran throughout Rough Skin and Harm’s Way. Images of her grandmother, a newcomer to the West, scrubbing floors while on her knees are the sort of the stories written up on the pages of her first two collections. Marrow, Willow sees Hynes move in a different direction, one of reflection and romance with a little bit of a rebel still present.
Marrow, Willow is split in to four parts:
1) Melting and Loss are your Tools
2) Thirty Roses, and other Ceremonies
3) Paseo de los Tristes
The title for the last section is on point as that’s exactly what the reader will be doing once they finish Marrow, Willow.
Poets are known for questioning society and pushing buttons. But how many actually write down questions? Hynes, freshly retired and in a different phase of life, ends Take This My Body, a poem inspired by a walk through a cemetery with:
“What will we do with our bodies,
What will we make with our lives?”
Attending funerals and taking walks in cemeteries always get people thinking. Take This My Body is that type of poem that most can relate to. Hynes has the ability to take common scenarios and bring the reader on her journey.
In Clapping Hynes explores the monk rebellion in Burma 2007 (and reminded this writer of the film Burma VJ). After reading an article in The Globe and Mail Hynes put pen to pad:
“If they watched they will be hauled away for a beating, fists and boots
cracking their jaws and ribs and vertebrae. If they stand
in the rain on the sidewalk and applaud, the rain of fists as well
and a small sentence, two to five years.”
Hynes asks, “How many beatings do they deserve?”
Not only does Hynes explore an uncommon act—Buddhist monks taking a political stance—she reminds North Americans of how different it is to protest in the West than any other place. Even the G20 in Toronto 2010 with all its crimes committed by thugs in police uniform pales in comparison to what happens in the rest of the world.
Hynes takes the reader throughout her life with poems about weddings (Wedding, 1927); being dressed by her mother before school (Mouchoir); museums and their appropriation of Native culture (Trading Blue and After Rising); the making of jelly (Crabapple Jelly 1 and 2); suicide (The Hanged Man); and a local park (Christie Pits).
There are love poems too. Ones that are not conventional or cheesy as many tend to be. Hynes gets erotic and writes of emotion without telling. She shows you the embraces in bed, the failed attempts at dancing tango, the gaze she and her lover share with one another, and the years of being together without writing down a number.
Fold, one such love poem and the origin of the collection’s title, sees a car ride, cuddling in bed, the wonder about the future, kisses, and transformation:
“change fear into fold, sorrow into marrow, marrow, willow.”
A true poet, Hynes has beautiful lines throughout Marrow, Willow that has the reader stop mid poem to admire her work:
1) the rain drumming at the window
2) River opens its arms, yields to ocean
3) Saltwater séance
4) My cough brushes like sandpaper
Hynes pays homage to great writers by including quotes throughout her collection. Showing that she is well read, Amichai, Belmore, Berger, Lorca, Macewen, and Neruda are the prompts for several of Hynes’ poems in her latest collection.
“Perhaps the earth can teach us when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive,” a quote by Pablo Neruda, starts the collection. Marrow, Willlow, Hynes’ long awaited third collection of poems, does the same.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday April 21, 2011 for an inclusive interview with Maureen Hynes.