My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long was my Day 9 #thesealeychallenge collection. What a week of poetry it has been, but I think reading this collection at the end of a week that began with Citizen by Claudia Rankine (which I didn’t write about because I think I would need to re-read it to accurately express what I got from it) is appropriate. This collection is full of excellent storytelling. Long has a way of using a few words to craft a crystal clear image that speaks volumes. There, as with all the collections I’ve read, are lots of themes and techniques that I could address and go on and on about in this book. But it is warm in my house and I ate a massive piece of cake and a brownie and two oranges and a sandwich within a small timeframe and I don’t feel well and I want to lay down. So, I’m only going to touch on the things that I felt were particularly novel and inspiring, and I know that this will be a collection that I come back to so that I can catch and hold onto the interesting things Long is saying in her work about race, class and body.
The book is structured in three parts: ‘Open,’ ‘A Lineage of Wigs,’ and ‘Dolls.’ Within each section, Long tells stories and memories about girlhood, desire and relationships, both romantic and, more powerfully, friendships and relationships with family. Having this structure adds to the narrative nature of the poems. It makes it easy to track the timeline, which is not necessarily a chronological timeline but the more curved and snaking timeline of growing up. I don’t know if that makes sense, and I guess it doesn’t really matter because I’m mostly writing this to summarise my thoughts and I fully understand that it will just live in an internet void, which is frankly where all of my opinions should reside. Tucked away in the dark, far away from people. So no, it only makes sense to me because no one cares enough to find out and also because I have no friends and no one to talk to about anything. That is how depression works. And this is how me summarizing a book should work. Anyway.
Long does an interesting thing where she repeats a poem from different perspectives. A partner, a friend, and her mother all tell her the same thing but with slight variations that speak to how these relationships work in Long’s life. I love that each one is given equal but different value. My friendships are the most important thing in my life and are the relationships I put the most work into maintaining. The poem ‘Sandwiches’ is one of the poems that expresses the joy and love in finding a friend who really sees you and understands you. I love the closing line in this piece, “O, girl, you have opened/ my eyes, how they weep!”
Long beautifully writes the nuance of heartbreak. Many of these poems are in the first section, ‘Open,’ which feels like the part of the collection that reflects the lessons learned in girlhood and young womanhood. She writes these moments in such an accessible way that even if I haven’t been in an exact situation, the emotion of those painful moments resonates with my own similar experiences. ‘Hotel Art, Barcelona,’ ‘Night Vigil,’ and ‘The Clean,’ are all heartbreaking and subtle. Each one deals with different elements of girlhood and womanhood and tells the story right up until the point where the reader is left to fill in the blanks. We are left in the height of emotion with enough room to step inside and bring our own experiences.
I really enjoyed the final part of this collection, ‘Dolls.’ In this section Long writes through the voices of others. She does this well and with all the subtlety and nuance of her more personal poems (even though I hesitate to assume the use of ‘I’ in a poem means it is autobiographical but I don’t have time or energy to get into all that so …). She takes on the voice of a Barbie, a person prepping Megan Markle for life as a royal, and, in my personal favorite of this grouping, Victoria Beckham. It is very clever and fun to read while also turning over how we feel about the actions and lives of women and how they navigate the world.
Something small that I really liked in this collection is that Long uses exclamation points. I have been reading a lot of poetry recently, and the ‘!’ in this collection was so striking because none of the poetry I’ve been reading had any. I am a self-professed hater of joy and suspicious of happiness. Some of my hesitation around the exclamation point is probably because I’ve been processed through the machine of employment to believe that it is “too much.” I love that it is used in this collection at points when there is real joy or surprise. Real emotions deserve exclamation points, and I should probably start using them more.
Favorites and Best Bits:
Open (pgs. 3, 10, 15, 22, 28)
Hotel Art, Barcelona (pg. 4)
Night Vigil (pg. 6)
Sandwiches (pg. 7)
The Clean (pg. 8)
Helena (pg. 18)
Portent (pg. 23)
Red Hoover (pg. 25)
Mum’s Snake (pg. 35)
And then there was the time I got into a fight (pg. 42)
Danielle’s Dad (pg. 47)
Communion (pg. 54)
Funeral Brochure (pg. 57)
Interview with B. Tape 2 (pg. 63)
Black Princess! Black Princess! (pg. 66)
Self-Portrait with Baby (pg. 68)
Thanksgiving (pg. 70)
The Sharks and Victoria Beckham (pg.71)