Inside the Yellow Dress
Mary Ann Samyn
New Issues, 2001
$14.00 (paper), ISBN 1-930974-09-4
The poems in Mary Ann Samyn's second full collection, Inside
the Yellow Dress, can best be described as illustrations of
a mind thinking. One metaphor leads associatively (often pleasurably,
provocatively) to another; language nudges itself through image
and "white space"a phrase that occurs frequently
throughout the collectionuntil the distinction between the
word and the reality it aims to represent threatens to collapse.
Samyn's poems often juxtapose one definition of a word against another,
following a trail of connotations until the implicit narrative loops
back upon itself.
The collection does contain the hint of narrative; a speaker who
is restrained and hesitant in the opening section"I
better not became my theme" ("Inside the Yellow Dress")becomes
able, by the closing section, to say yes, and take action.
A few of the individual poems also hint at narrative; readers will
glimpse various characters in addition to the speakera lover,
Yet the poems are interesting not for any plot that does or does
not unravel within them, but because of their rhythms, pace, motifs.
In nearly every poem, the lines are isolated in such a wayoften
by exploiting the white space as a graphic artist wouldthat
the reader must pause to observe each line quietly, fully, rather
than tumble down the page to the final period. In this way, the
metaphors unfold gracefully, each subsequent line a new revelation,
until the reader becomes convinced that he or she is completing
a thought just as the poet has.
"Entering the Text," for instance, begins
So the text is a field
and I want to pull over,
I want to get out of the car.
Initially, the poem seems to be exploring language directly; it seems
to be exploring itself, a text about a field of text. But the field
quickly exceeds metaphor, becomes reminiscent of "wildflowers,
roadside," until the speaker remembers a particular moment in
a particular field:
Remember? We did this once,
stopping for something blue along a fence,
and you picked some
and you offered it to me.
Metaphor becomes memory, the memory of a real material event currently
retained in language. Later, another metaphor enters the poem:
A field like a room.
As in, where is the door to this field?
scent of wisteria
Where is, in other words, the door to this text, this poem; how do
we enter it? Through image, through memory, the speaker's memory which
becomes the reader's memory, the "scent of wisteria." Two
stanzas later, Samyn connects "this particular field" to
"the poem we're in just now," and the conclusion of the
poem persuades us that the signifier is as real as the signified:
So this is an offering
the poem's tall grasses
brushing your bare limbs
you feel that?
And the scent of wisteria
it on your hands now?
Finishing this poem for the first time, I felt my fingers rise toward
my nose, convinced that I would smell blossoms.
Among the most haunting poems in the collection is "Poem with
a Riddle in It." The riddle is, of course, not what it initially
seems, though some lines that could be written as riddles (speaking
of Adam: "who would steal a rib and why?"). The poem contains
the word "riddle" and the poem reflects the idea that although
some events beg for explanations, those answers are seldom forthcoming.
Early in this poem, the speaker's absent mother is introduced as anxious
and to some extend unknowable: "
I dreamed my mother beneath
the fir tree // She's gone and she's not coming back."
By the end of the poem, the mother is identifiably unstable. The fourth
section (of six) of the poem is both mysterious and sinister:
Like a rope and bucket.
of us coiled, one of us)
holes. Yes, riddled with)
The speaker here is unable to understand either the comments circulating
around her or herself as separate from the mother. The poem concludes
with an indication that this sense of porous boundaries persists:
My mother is anger and want, a small girl.
I am a small girl too.
One of us darts in and out of the bushes.
other cannot imagine her suffering.
To the extent that the bushes are a metaphor for the speaker's comprehension,
both the mother and the child continue to dart "in and out."
A small girl does not understand the self nor the idea of separated
selves. The mother's departure is both cause and effect of suffering.
The child cannot imagine how the mother suffered to leave, nor can
the mother imagine how the child suffers through the mother's departure.
Samyn's use of the word "imagine" here serves to limit the
boundless sense of imagination and language she provides in "Entering
Through the weeks I've spent with this book, the poems and lines return
at quiet and unexpected moments. I'm drawn to pause and reread. The
individual poems in Inside the Yellow Dress are finely crafted,
and the collection itself is thoughtfully arranged. I'll be keeping
it close at hand.