Michelle McGrane is a white woman born in Zimbabwe and raised in Malawi. She currently lives and works in Pietermaritzburg (Kwazulu-Natal). Her first collection of poetry entitled Fireflies & Blazing Stars was published in 2002, and the following year she was awarded first place in the South African Writers' Circle annual poetry competition. Her second book of verse and prose poetry is trivially entitled Hybrid. What is that?
(Oxford Dictionary; hybrid n. 1. an animal or plant that is the offspring of two different species or varities 2. something made by combining two different elements). Whatever two elements McGrane combined in her second collection we'll never know other than that it contains very interesting and naughty poems, especially when the first one that has a telling body is entitled 'confessions to a host'; "I used to hide/ in the pink bedroom cupboard/ to smoke/ when i came to stay/ it was always too cold and dark/ to go outside". This poem is insightful coming from a woman who's open about her love for 'finer things'.
Most of McGrane's poetry is about herself, the people she knows, her experiences about what happens while she's going to work etcetera. The weakness of this style of writing to self is that there is a thin line between self-expression and self-indulgence. Or more so an expenses paid for ego- trip. Very few people would like to know what happens after the curtains are closed and the key turned. Very few indeed.
'Letter to a music man' is a blast, starting with the verse, "I never heard you play, but/ I thought I'd drop you a friendly line,/ let you know what's happening,/ get you up to speed". Whether the music man has passed on or is on an extended European tour, it becomes unclear, but it is apparent that 'J', as she calls him is not around (in Pietermaritzburg) to entertain her and her breed, and that's the root of her whinging.
What is considered an unexpected and unbecoming development of this book is that while it was published in 2003 when Zimbabwe was already burning, it seems an important patriotic duty slipped the poet's mind. There's nothing even resembling nostalgia coming from her. Rather she chose to write a naughty poem about 'wearing my bikini', a poem of feminine protest where she defiantly says, "if men can strut proud,/ up and down/ the promenade,/ exposing hairy backs,/ why should women feel obliged../ to hide cellulite/ today, i am wearing my bikini".
One outstanding, but rather a huge shortfall of Hybrid is that its pages are not numbered. Whether deliberate or not, for a word-addict, that sucked. How do you discuss the book over the phone? How do you tell the other person, 'the poem is on page??' The book contains 53 poems, but how many pages?? Nobody knows.
McGrane's poetry is just that, if you feel you'll be uncomfortable as a psychologist listening to troubled people musing about their miserable boring little lives, you'll have a problem with Hybrid. She's not trying to muse her way into your heart but some dark cave situated somewhere in the nucleus of loneliness. This few lines taken from 'letter to the music man' wraps McGrane's style in a wet diaper, "i'm writing when i can,/ trying to make sense/ of the madness/ most of the time".
She is the poetry editor for the online niche arts website litnet. For more of her poetry and tens others visit www.litnet.co.za or order her book from Trayberry Press, ISBN: 0-620-31321-8.