Some of Mary Dalton’s poems in the Breakwater anthology are brief stories or monologues informed by a vocabulary that also speeds up the telling. Reading “Bridesboys” and “Merrybegot” out loud to myself is a bit like being read to as a child; I hear strange words — brindy bough, upsot, nuzzle-tripe. I’m carried and grounded in sound and rhythm. A favourite, “The Doctor,” tells the story, in seventeen short lines, of two premature babies born in a November gale; an indifferent doctor; the efforts of the parents with wood, wool, thick flannel, a dropper, and the final perfect image, “Six long months they captained / That kitchen, steered those / Two little moon men to shore.” This is the kind of poetry — rich and weird in the details of the world — I love to read and reread.
Some of these poems echo the colour and vigour of my mother’s Newfoundland childhood; she is 86, and those memories are vivid, sometimes more real than present time. Dalton often writes about people who simply work with what they’ve got. Her poems embrace strangeness and are full of words that fill our mouths with sound. Spantickles, rigamarole, devil-ma-click. Her book Merrybegot has been on my shelf for years, but now I’ve ordered Red Ledger. Thank you, Mary Dalton.