Marilyn Dumont’s A Really Good Brown Girl is an impressive first book of poems, not only for its firm grasp of poetic measure, but also for its playful ways of thrusting and parrying with tradition. While T.S. Eliot and F.R. Scott are perhaps too convenient as targets for the Great White colonial project of imposing standard English, Dumont knows the “enemy” well an can use its forms to good satirical effect.
In “It Crosses My Mind,” she meditates on what it means, politically and culturally, to be a Metis in Canada, caught between the indigenous and settler races; and in “Leather and Naugahyde,” she deftly conjures a moment of being dismissed as irrelevant by one of her full-blooded Indian brethren. There’s no ranting or cheap moralizing her, but a deft manoeuvering, a guerilla poetics that would have appealed to her ancestor Gabriel Dumont.
Dumont’s strongest poems are “Let the Ponies Out,” a moving death-chant for the spirit of her father trying to take its leave of the irreparable flesh; “Not Just a Platform Dance,” a love-song for the prairies that celebrates its “head-strong sky and relenting willow/ these flat-footed fields and applauding leaves/ these frank winds and electric sky; and “The Sky is Promising,” a concluding elegy whose refrain “Danny, come home” is rooted in a carefully articulated and richly textured rural inventory of berry-picking, skid-horse, and “warm pine smells.”