A title like "Blowing Holes Through the Everyday" seems like a challenge, doesn't it? It says "This book is going to blow the lid off your perceptions, tear off the veil of the mundane, expose the blinding truth, etc." It's like someone saying "This is funny" before they tell you a joke. You're immediately on the defensive, thinking, "Oh, yeah? I'm not going to be impressed by just any joke. This better be good."
The book is good, but it didn't blow the lid off my perceptions. Perhaps with a different title, I wouldn't have expected so much from it.
Sheila Dalton is a talented poet, and also a novelist, librarian, and future herbologist. I never would have guessed that she is also a writer of children's books. Her poetry is as rich and varied in subject matter and influence as any recent works I've read. She is capable of many poetic voices, yet still able to imprint them with her own voice, which makes extraordinary these poems of the ordinary and the "everyday."
She is a political poet, outraged and guilty, in poems like "Eyes," "Poems From the Late Twentieth Century," and "To the Boy with the Onyx Elephant." In these, the poet is in Mexico, unable to laugh off the culture shock, and the contrast between her life and the lives around her. She gives an eight-year old boy five pesos for an onyx elephant, and then another boy tells her it was only worth two. "I said, 'So what?' and grinned at you./You smiled back at me./But then I saw your eyes./Bewilderment was all that held you to me./The rest of you as remote and glacial as my homeland was just then." She concludes, "I lost the onyx elephant./I never lost the distances you showed me/between my Mexico and yours.
She is a personal poet, revealing private pain, joys, and fears. In "You, My Father", she struggles between wanting to write a poem that really expresses her anger about her relationship with her father and wanting to be fair and consider his side of the story. This is the kind of "depth perception" that not many poets have. It is all too easy to write stirring poetry from a position of self-righteous anger; more difficult is to consider the complexities of relationships and the fallibility of memory, even though these produce no easy answers. In "For Adam" she rejoices in the memories of the birth of her son and reflects on giving life and simultaneously receiving it.
She is also a Walt Whitman poet, with all her apostrophes to pagan deities and her delight in sexuality. In the poem "The Physical" she even portrays Death as a woman "grinning [with a:] sequinned cloak," looking on from the doorway as the doctor completes his examination. But "God Grant Me Madness When I'm Old" is the poem which fairly screams Whitman:
I want to be the bag lady at the reception, to haunt the premieres and the comings-out in nothing but rags and old silk flowers, drooped and flagging as the skin upon my neck. I want to be scorned, yet there, I want to be there, where the life is, under the sneers and condescension, under the false barriers which create true exceitement, let me be there, defiant till the end, in my torn stockings all the courage of the lost and tired - but there, there, still and always there, as strong as diamonds in a broach of steel, let me be there.
Finally it is "The Whales On the Saguenay River" which reproach me for assuming too much because of the title, as they end the book with their simple, unassuming gesture noted by the poet and her son from the tour boat: "You could hear them puffing air against/the silence/blowing holes through the everyday."
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