In Clinic Day, Diana Fitzgerald Bryden departs from the internal gaze that consumed her previous collection, Learning Russian, to glance outward at the miasmas of urban relations. As outlined by the poet in “Excavate,” Bryden works towards “shadowing the new” by probing surfaces of the now to discover ruins very much alive and ready to penetrate the present. This excavation is made possible through the utilization of three characters: the surgeon, the secretary, and a patient pointedly named Blake, whom Bryden guides through their isolation in a series of posed minuets, where layers of dispossession erode to reveal lost foundations of interconnectedness.
In Bryden’s collection, poems such as “Current” reveal each “small part in the play, its hushed/ community of earners that starts/ the day, closes off the night,” examining the work’s post-Romantic setting and the macro-/macro-cosmic relationship shared between the inhabitants and the city as its own entity. These characters, defined chiefly through their interactions with one another, struggle with a common ailment, the inability to perceive beyond their occupation, limiting their own scope of interpretation, thereby enabling the author to swoop in and remedy this sense of loss with a totalizing vision. Each contributes to the dynamic: the surgeon as an emissary of Christian science and medicine, the secretary as scribe to his dictation, and the withered Blake as the embodiment of past eras and philosophies. These lost times and sentiments of Blake are demonstrated in the poem “X-Ray,” where “no-one… wants to walk/ Blake’s wilderness,” instead opting for a “landscape/ starved and overused.” The pastoral has given way to the wasteland in these lines and Blake, nearly lame, can no longer navigate (physically or poetically) the cityscape.
Bryden is able to reconcile the loss of this pastoral desire, by finding that it does exist somewhere in the city, if only in a mutated and varied form. Within the city there are undiscovered beauties: “new toilets, shell-white/ under rain streaming… silver flutes jut up/ above. A roof organ or/ ventilation pipes.” Beneath its restrictive surface, where both patients and secretaries are regarded, as Bryden says in the poem “Clinic Day,” “in their natural habitat… captivity,” the city reveals itself, if only under a planetarium’s light, to be vast and brilliant as any night sky. Bryden, even if at times too mindfully, takes the reader on a guided tour of the unknown city, the unexamined city, where “Earthed over, now/ see from above: bodies, clothed and turning,/ press shallow surface.”
Veronica Marmoreo is working towards her B.A. at York University in English and Creative Writing, and is currently interning with the Mercury Press.