Spoken and Unspoken Conversation
The Poetry of Muriel Spark
Anne C. Elguindi
All the Poems of Muriel Spark.|
New Directions, 2004.
130 pages, $13.95 (paperback).
Although better known for her novels and short stories, Muriel Spark says in the introduction to All the Poems of Muriel Spark, "I have always thought of myself as a poet." Spark's dry humor and deep intent fill these poems, which cover a wide range of technique and tone. Included is everything from a strict adherence to form (villanelles, sonnets, even a rondel) to a 21-page, surreal (and sometimes violent) narrative to a light-hearted poem about a tea machine that eventually tires of making tea for its owner and instead demands the roles switch: "'What the hell, / I've stood this treatment long and dumb; / Mr. Chiddicott, the time has come / For you to make the tea instead.'"
Spark's earlier works, written during the 1940s and 1950s, are distinctly careful. These poems must be unpacked and the meanings still seem deliberately vague. The early poems are also peppered with elevated language ("orgulous," "postprandial," "syringa") that would seem out of place in Spark's recent poems of 2002 and 2003, which are much more colloquial and accessible.
Although Spark's work encompasses a wide range of style, it is united by an emphasis on the rhythm and sound of the words, and many of her poems develop through repetition of words and structure in a theme and variation design. Her work is also united by two central concerns: dialogue and the forgotten individual—a stranger standing on the street below, the people who appear in dreams then get left behind when the dreamer wakes, and even the three Wise Men, whose own power comes into question once their deed is done.
As in all collections, some poems work better than others, but there are some true gems to be found in this one.