a review

The Suitable Girl - A Review


I would like to argue that where you are when you read a certain book affects your appraisal of that work going forward. I adore Michelle McGrane as a person and love the poetry she produces. Okay; it's difficult to separate the two. I have been her fan from when I used to read her work in New Coin, Green Dragon and other quality anthologies such as Timbila.

And when I finally got a copy of her collection Hybrid in Cape Town I read the beauty in hours and had an opinion of it. I actually had an opinion before the plane landed at OR Tambo.

There must be something nice I wrote about it when it was new and I believe I still stand by that. Now Michelle dispeared from my radar for some time until I bumped into her again at the Melville Poetry Festival late last year. Not only was she still bubbly but she had a new collection, The Suitable Girl to compensate for all those years of absence.

I love Michelle's work and so I started reading the 50-pages book on my way home; while lounged in a bus. I should confess that since I have been reading her work for some time between then and now she has grown and matured a lot. Her work reflects the reality that comes with age; a reality far divorced from the luxury brought about by hallucinations and fantasies. The 38-years old poet's latest work is themed and each theme has enough nectar to last one a lifetime.

I loved the Lunar Postcards themed poems which takes the reader to space and back in a satirical manner that pokes fun at that outer space. Michelle writes, "we season freeze-dried macaroni/ with liquid salt and pepper/ water is distilled, recycled/ from our breath and sweat./ after a week of granola bars,/ nuts and bitter orange juice,/ the commander's arm/ begins to look tasty" - Space Gourmet. Hahahahaha! I found that pretty funny. It's a hallucination allowed only when you know it can't happen. Otherwise all the alien stories might start sounding creepier.

Michelle's work also shows a lifetime of consuming work from poets far and wide. Between the lines it's easy to find references to beliefs held gospel in other cultures which you might find a little akward. Such as dedications to people you might have heard of but failed to formulate an opinion about. On the person Bertha Mason Speaks, she writes, "now that you've heard Jane's side of the story, what I wish to tell you is this; that I floated on a celestial conflagration of saffron frangipani only to plummet, petrified, into a voodoo tomb; that within these stone walls time became obsolete; no market days, no festivals, no seasonal ebb and flow; that mocking echoes dogged this stifling boudoir and rattled within my bones".

In this collection Michelle takes on different personalities, often conflicting and in disharmony. It however is her style of lucid poetry and sensual delivery that lays the groundwork for this work of art. It is almost like a fresh paint on a tired canvas; or adding the 13th disciple at the Last Supper painting.

The Suitable Girl is classic Michelle, flowing, lucid and engaging. Get the copy at your nearest bookstore or get Pindrop Press, the publishers to send you one. When we look back at South African poetry fifty years from now, The Suitable Girl will be one of those we try to understand. So, get it today!

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