Lynn Domina

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 collection—until 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 speaker—a lover, a mother.

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 way—often by exploiting the white space as a graphic artist would—that 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—

                       wildflowers, roadside

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,

                       —was it wisteria?

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?

                      —Oh, of course!
                      The 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
or doorway:

the poem's tall grasses
brushing your bare limbs

                      —can you feel that?

And the scent of wisteria

                      —is 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.

                                              (one of us coiled, one of us—)

Like twilight.

                                              (Yes, 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.

                                             The 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 the Text."

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.


© 2002 Electronic Poetry Review