Queen of the Mist CL

Joan Murray, Author
Joan Murray, Author Beacon Press (MA) $15 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8070-6852-6
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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These two books, the first a runner-up for Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award and the second the winner of the 1998 National Poetry Series, selected by Robert Bly, establish Murray as a major feminist voice working in a dramatic mode. Recalling Pamela White Hadas's expert channelings, Queen of the Mist is a book-length poem telling the story of one Annie Taylor who, at the age of 63, impoverished and unfulfilled--""compelled by necessity""--went over Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1901. She survived but, in Murray's graceful and pointed telling, did not fit the American notion of a daredevil: as she emerges from the barrel, bloodied and sore, one onlooker declares, ""Don't waste your time--it's Methuselah's wife!"" Taylor's preparations, her inner motivations and the plunge itself are all movingly rendered by Murray, but the strength of her engagement with the story is in the aftermath, in which the desperation of a woman to force a destiny upon herself is most deeply felt. In Looking for the Parade, Murray's gifts as a lyric poet are more in evidence, rendering without pretense or polemic the life of a woman struggling to find her voice and her identity as a poet. She writes of reveries at the Macdowell Colony (""A deer!--nibbling on the few green things//Now you possess it. It is your deer./See how nicely it fits with all the other things.""); of Yaddo, too, and of the shopkeepers around her home in upstate New York, quirky villagers and hunters and students, all given equal time. Murray's search for some noble connectedness in a world hard to decipher is bolstered by her equanimity in the face of failure--""fooling ourselves/ that we've escaped the ultimate uniformity"" she muses in a graveyard--and the reader listens all the more closely. (Mar.; Apr.)
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