In the prose poem “ADIDAS,” from Domenica Martinello’s debut collection, the speaker asks: “If you are the siren why do you balk at rebranding? A hot iron can turn a sea cow into iconography. Split-tailed, plucked smooth as a Brazilian wax. … If you are the siren, over the last forty years we’ve made some changes to that identity.” This serves as a springboard for Martinello’s reclamation of the siren, the “split-tailed sea cow, crowned” and familiar to us as the Starbucks logo fashioned in Seattle in 1971. That piece of corporate iconography is derived from a 16th-century Norse woodcut, as the speaker points out in the poem “O Morning Commuter.” Beyond critical engagement with the siren’s recent history, the poems in this collection extend far back in time, to encompass the myth of Parthenope, the siren from Greek mythology, who appears in three entries – one in each of the book’s three sections. In the first of this series, the speaker “unshell[s]” her breasts and speaks of “wetness” that “quenched Virgil” and “quelled Vesuvius,” only to find her natural power tamed and reduced: “Foreman of men, you’ve / domesticated me. // Swallow a strand / of my long black hair // & we can call it monogamy.”
All Day I Dream about Sirens unfolds through persona poems such as these, enacting a poetics of embodiment that extends the relevance of the siren figure to contemporary life, a time when women endeavour to reclaim their bodies and agency from the hegemony of the male gaze and associated patriarchal narratives. Using a linguistic register that glides with ease between the mythic and the modern, Martinello reclaims the singular experience of the siren through history in an attempt to fracture the stereotypical tropes that have come to dominate discourse around these “fishy women.” Consider “Hapax Song,” in which the speaker says, “Myth is everyone’s favourite / Beach House song” – the same speaker shreds her clothes and makes a zine. A note informs us that “Circe on Sundays” finds itself “in conversation with Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones”; Martinello conflates the popular HBO TV show and the Greek myth – in the modern iteration, Circe is “misquoted as a nymph, witch, sorceress with a complex, name misspelled.”
Martinello is capable of shifting register and immersing us in language as playful as it is arresting (a poem titled “Sundial” opens with the phrase “Gnomon looming”); she is also perfectly at home across forms such as the long poem, prose poem, and even the tension of narrative, whose “questionable storytelling” she uses to critique and reclaim the “female logo.” Rich with myth, pop culture, and feminism, All Day I Dream about Sirens is a striking debut that offers a clarion call for many women.
The same could be said of Dina Del Bucchia’s fourth collection, It’s a Big Deal! The exclamation mark in the title is representative of the energetic poems that treat all manner of big deals, both ironic – trends in fashion and food – and not – the ravages of extinction, with specific reference to the mastodon and the woolly mammoth. The poem that opens the collection, “Marketing,” begins: “Read Marketing for Dummies. And then set it on fire because you are no dummy! You are a master of marketing.” The voice here is typical of the author, both funny and snarky, and imbued with a declarative tone that characterizes the whole collection. The imperative mood urges self-fashioning in the same breath as self-criticism. “Marketing” ends with a series of questions directed toward the reader: “Do you believe in powers? Do you believe in this new super-marketing-hero-persona? Develop it. Develop. Do you believe? Because if you can’t sell yourself, you can’t sell anything.” The irony of opening a book with a poem about marketing is not lost: Del Bucchia stabs at the hypocrisy of a culture that calls on branding and hero narratives, both of which emphasize the existential necessity of becoming a “big deal.”
Del Bucchia also has a knack for weaving subtlety and nuance through humour. Consider the footnotes sprinkled throughout the first section. These act as a friendly voice beyond the body of poem, one which fills us in on pop-culture references and alerts us to allusions that may have slipped our notice. (The refrain of “Advice,” for example –“Never say, ‘You people.’ / Never say, ‘Your people.’ / Never say, ‘When I was your age’” – is adapted from a Justin Bieber song and an accompanying documentary.)
It’s a Big Deal! is winning in its wit and critique, but most of all in its absurdity. Consider a line from “Politics,” which asserts the ambiguity and narrow-mindedness of some online discourse: “I read a thing and posted a thing online because I only believe this thing about that thing.” Part of the humour comes from trying to make sense of this, which ultimately leads us to wonder about the foolishness of it all – not just of politics, but of life itself. There is no poet who writes quite like Del Bucchia – a ventriloquist with a pulse on our time. For that reason alone, It’s a Big Deal! is a feat.