Leave Books

Under the Neath, Sally Doyle

(Leave Books, 1994)

"Words can be your LIFE. If you don't say them you make it easy for the devil to slip his rope around your neck. I will draw my sword. HA." ("Link")

Sally Doyle's Under the Neath, a chapbook of 10 poems and an introduction written in prose blocks is an engaging work, the writing influenced by the work of Gertrude Stein (Tender Buttons), Leslie Scalapino (the serial quality of her work) and Woolf (The Waves). Titles are often objects and each is treated as a landscape.

Under the Neath presents a frightening though alluring landscape, "We are in a part of the world that can't be mended." ("Sleeping Mirror"). It is a world in process and we are witness to it breaking the surface. The Big Bang. Reading the book, I am reminded of the desire to look at a car wreck on the highway. The longing for and horror of seeing the disaster up close. UN employs some of the dichotomies found in fairy tales-evil, purity, dark and light, hidden and exposed-as well as some of the stock paraphernalia-a forest, mirrors, a child, fairies, an apple-but pushes them to their furthest limits. A puritan history lurks in the shadows. Eroticism and desire scavenge the landscape.

What is at risk here is a language stripped of its strangeness, of its multiplicity, its generative, erotic, violent qualities. "I don't want the language that has been dead all these hours. I am tired of the usual things." ("Juniper Tree") "Is the circle around me a friendly circle? Or does it want to destroy me with ordinary conversation? Is the circle around me a fire or is it people who hate words?" ("Link"). It's banality, language as monolith, singularity, "An average word made her blood cold" ("Sleeping Mirror") and a language usurped by power structures, "Power kills the language you have with yourself" ("Juniper Tree") that equals death.

There is a price to be paid for a language that is untethered, rife with pleasure, desire, violence. These pieces are littered with eruptions, and the view is bleak, even bloody. "Every part of the landscape has blood in it." ("Dirty Shoes") The text is ruptured, torn apart by subterranean forces/voices struggling to the surface in the midst of a power structure that would keep them apart from language, off the page. Formally, ruptures occur as well through the capitalization of words and phrases in what appears visually (in most of the pieces) to be "orderly" blocks of prose.

The writer and reader are left with a dilemma: "'I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THE BRIDGE SO I CAN CROSS OVER INTO ANOTHER STORY...Throw the girl into boiling water and listen for her small voice trying to CROSS OVER. The word GALLOP gone-so how will she get out of here?" ("Link") The writer gives us a volcanic Under the Neath even if she hasn't gotten out of "here." And suggests, "Even if the story is sad you needed the story in your own voice." She's not really waiting for the bridge, but on a quest for it, "What is stored in language? A path?" (Introduction). Perhaps this is a part of the text she has yet to write.

-Robin Tremblay-McGraw