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Review of A Really Good Brown Girl
From Susan Musgrave , Vancouver Sun (August 3, 1996)

Names to Remember: four fine new poets

A REALLY GOOD BROWN GIRL by Marilyn Dumont

FROGS IN THE RAIN BARREL by Sally Ito

I MENTION THE GARDEN FOR CLARITY by Vivian Marple

CLAY BIRDS by Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen

Every year more than 50,000 books are published in North America. Thousands go unrecognized, unnoted, unreviewed. Poetry is perhaps the most neglected genre of all. Publishing a book of poetry, said Don Marquis, is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.

When it’s your first book of poetry freefalling into the reviewer’s lap, how deafening the silence you can endure waiting for the echo. Each poem in Marilyn Dumont’s first collection, A Really Good Brown Girl, looks us straight in the eye and confronts us:

god knows Mary tried
to
keep us clean and fed, respectable but
all the bleach and soup bones
in the
Red & White couldn’t keep our
halfbreed
hides from showing through.

The exasperation and anger is close to the surface, as Dumont, a Métis from northeastern Alberta, mocks attitudes that lie deep within our culture, whether it be the exploitation of Indianness or more-Indian-than-thou-ness, or plain white condescension and ignorance —the treaty guy who gives her a look that says “he’s leather and I’m Naughahyde.”

In “Squaw Poems”, a sequence of prose poems, Dumont writes:

I learned I should never be seen drunk in public, nor should I dress provocatively, because these would be irrefutable signs. So as a teenager I avoided red lipstick, never wore my skirts too short or too tight, never chose shoes that looked the least “hooker-like.” I never moved in ways that might be interpreted as loose. Instead, I became what Jean Rhys phrased, “aggressively respectable.” I’d be so god-damned respectable that white people would feel slovenly in my presence.

As well as such fiercely defiant poems, Dumont writes with lyrical tenderness about friends, family and the prairie landscape she’s left behind as she sits on “this thin coast”:

I miss those spruce that
defy the
flatness,
gloat at the
pressing palm sky, the
loaded rifle earth and
grow anyway.

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