Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Origami Dove by Susan Musgrave

Origami Dove is the first poetry collection by Canadian author Susan Musgrave in over ten years. It is divided into four section, and the first portion, "Madagascar vanilla", focuses on loss and love, particularly when it comes to a husband and father who suffers from heroine addiction. In "The Room Where They Found You" Musgrave writes "I believed in everything: the hope / in you, your brokenness". The poems are about lost hope and about grieving, they are powerful and tragic. These poems, like the coroner in"The Coroner at the Taverna", seek beauty but instead find something slightly poisoned, for as Musgrave writes:
"And beauty is what he seeks
though how you know beauty when you see it
is the question he asks each time he cuts
open a young body and fins something
beautiful but malignant inside."
The title poem, "Origami Dove" is a goodbye to a father as he lies dying, but also a testament to the loneliness and emptiness of the world, ending on the somber note: "I see how true / loneliness has become when he takes up with me / and walks me through the world I have always / called my home. Only in the darkness I see now/ it has never been home." Musgrave's poetry is part grief, part longing, but always straightforward and beautiful. Almost impossibly after the dark words that begin Origami Dove, the first section ends on a note of hope with "Understanding the Sky" in which Musgrave finishes, "The going / doesn't get any easier, but by any name / I'd miss the wind too much to be / parted from this life for even one hard winter." It is a life of pain and loss, but it is one in which Musgrave manages to find beauty anyway.

The second part of the collection, "Obituary of Light" contains one long poem divided into four portions by seasons and then into many parts "The Sangan River Meditations" continues the hint of hope provided at the end of the first section. In the first portion, "Winter", remarking on a moment of snowflakes melting on children's tongues, Musgrave writes "joy is there, in everything, and even / when we can't see it." Use of the wind appears throughout the collection, showing up in "Spring" where once again it provides a kind of hope, the openness of possibility, "how boundless is the pure / wind circling our lives." Still, although there is a hint of hope, Musgrave's outlook remains bleak, in "Summer" she writes "Suffering is the way / we measure love" and if that is the case, Origami Dove is a collection full of love. It is a love betrayed but it is a love all the same, for in "Fall" she writes:
"I loved you
with a fierceness we save for those
who can breaks us in all the broken places.
Never mind the lies, the promises
you couldn't keep."
The section itself ends with the lines, "We are the broken / heart of this world.", the exact sentiment that Musgrave's poetry captures, broken, but full of heart.

The third part of the collection is "Random Acts of Poetry", in which even with the title Musgrave begins to show her sense of humour, re-enforced in "Ice Age Lingerie" where she writes of a dream in which she is "wearing ice-age lingerie, oblivious / to the effects of global warming." The poem "Rest Area: No Loitering and Other Signs of the Times" is distinctly Canadian with a satiric bite that often had me chuckling under my breath, including such gems as "Americans say no to drugs; Canadians say / no thank you." and "My new philosophy for the millennium: / dread one day at a time." After such a bleak first half of the collection, Musgrave's humour is surprising, though still dark, describing going through airport security in "No Hablo Ingles" she refers to the inspectors as "The false-sense-of-security / guards". This section in particular, is one that would sound incredible read out lout, a spoken word poetic humour, with its commentary on politics and love.

The final section is called "Heroines" is about heroin addiction and prostitution and getting clean and selling your body. It is rough and gritty and blunt and powerfully raw. One poem is entitled "Question: Have you been hurt by men, have you been raped?", to which Musgrave replies:
"I've been raped, yes,
but what hurts worse is the way
they look at you afterwards
when they refuse to pay

as if you're the one dirty habit
they can't break."
While in another "Question" poem she writes, "the only / desire left in me is the desire / to make the best of it." It is an empowering collection, because Musgrave still expresses hope in the poems despite a narrator who grew up being abused by her foster father and now sells her body to other men. The poems themselves are based on the lives of six heroin-addicted prostitutes and originally portions of them were used as a voice-over in an art documentary film on the topic called Heroines. Although these poems are very powerful, they don't have the same confessional appeal I found in the first two portions of the collection.

Overall, Origami Dove is a bleak but beautiful collection with an unexpected hint of humour my only hope is that we don't have to wait another ten years for Musgrave's next book of poetry.

Release Date: March 29th, 2011
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher 
Buy the Book


  1. Wow, this looks AMAZING. And the cover is so beautiful.

  2. This one does sound really good. I'll probably end up buying it. I love the cover as well :)

  3. Bleak yet beautiful always hits me the hardest. Thank you for the review and for introducing me to Susan Musgrave.


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