Review: Susan Millar DuMars – Bone Fire

‘Bone Fire’ is the fourth collection from Susan Millar DuMars with Salmon Poetry. Born in Philadelphia, currently living in Galway and with family from Belfast, DuMars might be forgiven for feeling prone to displacement, similar to Canadian-born Kathleen McCracken or Bermuda-born Paul Maddern (whereas many Irish poets often leave Ireland, ie. Paul Muldoon, Nick Laird, etc). In the prose poem Retreat there is the Beckettian thought “I don’t know how to get home from here. I expect that when I do get home, home will have changed too.” The question of home, where loved ones and family might be, is a subtle undercurrent throughout the book.

Elsewhere throughout ‘Bone Fire, DuMars speaks of ageing, the presence of time marching on whether we want it to or not. Bathing suggests that it is “Tiring | to carry yourself like a dozen eggs”, yet the heat of the water is still enough to transform the bather into “a goddess”. This is countered with a few love poems in the collection, some erotically tongue-in-cheek, some bold yet tender (let the dog, The First Rule, Until Then).

There is a warning to focusing too much on the tick of the clock, rather than the action that occurs within the hours in Meet You:

+++Could be a great writer
+++when I’m old,
+++like, over forty.
+++You shook your head
+++said life is happening now.

Pressing in at the peripherals, there is a sense of threat, a sinister object that is equally within and without the poet. “No guard rail | between me and consequence” (Migration). It acts as a warning, but in the larger context of the collection, serves as a reminder than now is the time for action.

Reclamation is a hymn to the menopause, a celebration, rather than “weeping”.

+++The blood has stopped
+++and with it the need
+++to suckle lesser creatures.
+++I’m learning the pleasure
+++of empty.
+++The weight of one.

Later on the collection is Twins, which could be read as a twin poem of sorts to Reclamation, where “lesser creatures” are now mourned over: “He was all I am, and better – | glimpsed, then gone.” The twins are cast as the sun and the moon, entities that arrive and then leave, never omnipresent except in memory.

The sun and the moon make further appearances too. Moon, Alone also mirrors the sense of reduction in Reclamation:

+++she feels reduced, a lozenge on the tongue
+++of God
+++The night has night. It bites and bites till Moon’s
+++reduced – a smile without eyes to see

Without the sun and moon for light and reflection, DuMars however is resilient, rejecting any idea of chaos or unfeeling. Pandora Packs It In (remembering that the last thing released from Pandora’s box was Hope) the goddess plays her role as ‘the all-giving’:

+++She and I
+++will make our won luck.
+++She’ll show me how to gather
+++things that shine
+++reflect back at me.

Given that Pandora was the first women created by the gods in Greek mythology, the figure is wholly apt for continuing the themes of recreation and womanhood. In Reasons To Tend My Front Garden (botany has long been a common interest for a generation of poets in Ireland), DuMars accepts the feeling that life goes on and we must move along with it.

+++Because the dead must make room
+++for the living.
+++Because I love
+++sun and the shadows of clouds
+++moving, everything moving,
+++Because I love.
+++Because I’m here.

The poem is a reclamation in itself, taking repossession of one’s life and direction, showing us that life-affirming quality that good poetry always leaves us with. A great poem makes us fell life more keenly, exercises our empathy and resonates within our own experience. ‘Bone Fire‘ is full of these epiphanies, enjoyable and moving, and a fine addition to the Salmon catalogue.

Bone Fire is available now from Salmon Poetry, ISBN: 978-1-910669-41-9

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