Beauty Breaks In
Mary Ann Samyn
New Issues, 2009
Review by Gina Myers
Mary Ann Samyn's Beauty Breaks In
begins with a poem set apart from all the others by a blank page (front and back) and different from all the others in that it uses long lines and extends onto a second page. "A Girl Can Imagine, Can't She, A Girl Can Dream" challenges the reader with a list of instructions: "For assessment purposes, please list three visions worth working toward and three dumb questions." A few lines later, Samyn offers, perhaps, some of her own "dumb" questions: "Who will read my work and what is special about my writing that will make my readers glad?"
In the pages that follow, the reader is sure to discover a number of things that are special about Samyn's writing.
Beauty Breaks In
is Samyn's fifth book of poetry, and like those that proceed it, the poems in this collection are brief lyrics. It's a poetry marked by concise language where each word seems carefully chosen and surgically precise. Nonetheless, there is a bubbling energy beneath the surface, a sense of disquiet. In "When You Reach an Obstacle," Samyn writes, "Two calm thoughts in a row. Personal best." The poems within this collection are not composed of these calm thoughts; no, the thoughts that make up these poems are tossing and turning, creating tension through their back and forth volley, and capturing beauty in their ability to look at the world with sheer wonder.
In "Suppose We Make That Assumption," Samyn describes rhythmic gymnastics, "which entrances as it perplexes." That modifier could be a statement of Samyn's own poetics, as her work does both entrance and perplex. While some people may have a difficult time deciphering what a given poem is "about," the poetry is entrancing in a number of ways, from word choice, to syntax, to how Samyn turns a phrase, to sheer delight in sound: "Little owl, appliqué: this is the shape of a day" ("What You Won't Believe"). This is not to say that it is impossible to tell what these poems are "about." They do not present themselves as a simple narrative, but are perhaps truer to human experience where not everything is accessible, but, as Samyn writes in "Quarterly Report," "What emerges, emerges distinctly." Occasionally thoughts trail off, a sentence will drop off mid-thought like in "THIS IS NOT AN ENTRANCE": "Shortly thereafter, I opened my mouth to
decide—". While it may leave the reader hanging, it does not claim to know it all. Subtle and nuanced, the poems in this collection demonstrate Samyn's keen wit and sharp observation skills.
Occasionally a single poem may inform another poem in the collection, as lines echo and reverberate off each other. For example, "Ply Me With Something, Please," contains the line "This is how I remember panic: white, at the edges," which opens up a poem that appeared a few pages earlier, titled "It Most Certainly Is Edged in White."
There is an excitement in reading this collection because of its unpredictability. Each poem is like an adventure, and as readers we are at the mercy of Samyn's will. A number of poems have an almost fairytale-like quality to them. Haunted by religion, Samyn renders childhood, specifically girlhood, in such a way that is surprisingly new and painfully accurate. Like a magpie, she collects disparate fragments and pulls them together. Everything is a potential source for poems, even a coloring book which Samyn cites as the source for the title of the poem "Make Them Howl or Breathe Fire." (Imagine for a moment the pictures that would accompany those instructions.)
The title of the collection is taken from its final poem, "You Can Get Tea Towels Like That," which opens with the line from Emerson: "Beauty breaks in everywhere.
" Beauty Breaks In
does seem to serve as an apt title to this collection and an apt description of the author's world where despite the situation, beauty breaks in. Samyn masterfully captures this ability and delivers it to her readers. This is an amazing talent, and it makes for a delightful read.
© Gina Myers, 2010