The Bull Calf

Reviews of Fiction, Poetry, and Literary Criticism

fur(l) parachute by Shannon Maguire

Reviewed by Adèle Barclay 

Shannon Maguire

fur(l) parachute. BookThug, 2013.

108 pp.

$18

Shannon Maguire’s inaugural trade publication, fur(l) parachute, claims the past to complicate the future. The collection, an ambitious debut, identifies the enigmatic tenth-century fragmentary text “Wulf and Eadwacer” as its antecedent, only to spiral out from an Old English base into a thorny contemporary landscape where stories entwine and identifies shift. “Wulf and Eadwacer,” a nineteen-line fragment from the Exeter manuscript, escapes generic classifications—it is potentially a woman’s lament, a riddle, or an elegy. According to Maguire, the meaning and origins of “Wulf and Eadwacer” confound scholars. All that seems definite about this formal oddity is that it is one of two extant Anglo Saxon poems with a refrain and that the speaker of the poem is a woman. Yet this uncertain grounding of the older text generates the curiosity and energy in Maguire’s poetic riffs and explorations. 

To translate means "to carry," to move from one place to another. Maguire begins her collection with a transformation of “Wulf and Eadwacer” in a section entitled “nomanative;” the title and playful use of pronouns make the text visibly queer. She then carries the text across linguistic, temporal, and geographic thresholds to create the following five sections that function like alternate positions or connected movements in relation to the first poem.

This opening poem of transformation retains an alien atmosphere of the medieval mindscape while importing a modern sensibility. Caesurae part lines in such a way that unites Old English verse and Language poetry: “cross the great     growing cleavage between” (17). In this section, the lover, Wulf, does not return and the speaker yearns relentlessly so that language itself needs to be questioned: “what howl beyond howl?” (24). 

This inquiring lament of the first section launches the collection into an unyielding foray of forging connections through difficult constraints and unravelled language. “The Midwife’s Hands” reworks instructions for how to make a parachute lure for fly-fishing into an inverted sonnet with an accompanying upside down homolinguistic translation. Maguire’s method proffers challenging feats that resonate and transmute. For example, “threat to deer from the covered hook / extended extended the extended deer” becomes “future future a future button / trail from button forms a hidden march” (71): the translated couplets echo like an ecopoetic mutation of Gertrude Stein. For “Spill,” Maguire splices Michael Field’s Underneath the Bough (1898) with the Wikipedia entry for the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the collection houses references to Shakespeare, Mae West, and the Pearl poet, weaving together disparate temporalities and modes—the allusions meander yet are never coy.

As such, the collection gestures towards a poetic genealogy that searches for the lyric in unlikely times and places, leaving a prolific trail of inquiry in its wake. What is laudable about Maguire’s work is that her excavating, translating, and splicing of past poetic exemplars is stimulating rather than nostalgic. Her search for origins doesn’t create a unified, linear trajectory; rather the poems locate a circular and sprawling strangeness in oil spills, fly fishing, pipefitting, Victorian poetry, and medieval verse. Maguire’s experiments in fur(l) parachute produce uncanny results that conjure up an eerie yet familiar, an ancient yet modern, dreamscape for the future of poetry.

 

At press time: Adèle Barclay is a PhD candidate and sessional lecturer at the University of Victoria where she holds a CGS scholarship and researches American poetry and visual culture. Her writing has appeared in Branch Magazine, Queen's Feminist Review, The Media Res, and the anthology Lake Effect III (edited by Carolyn Smart). She is the editor of Stroboscope, an online poetry magazine (www.stroboscopemagazine.com).

  

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