Schildts & Söderströms (Finland), 2015.
Reviewed by Martin Murrell and Anna-Lisa Murrell in SBR 2016:2
Review Section: Poetry
The reader of this book of lyrical intimacies ideally needs to have some knowledge of not only the poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-62) and the various jottings of Marilyn Monroe (1926-62), but also of the personalities and lives of these two iconic women. To fully appreciate Byggmästar’s work one needs to be familiar with the type of verse Dickinson wrote; she composed 1,775 poems in all, first published in their entirety in 1955. Marilyn Monroe’s ‘poems, intimate notes, letters’ were collected and published 48 years after the film star’s death in a beautifully produced volume entitled Fragments, with which Byggmästar is clearly familiar. What do the two icons have in common? Is it possible to lovingly embrace two apparently very different people at the same time, combining them but also separating them in a single expression of love? Can the poems stand alone and does the reader need to know which of the two icons is being addressed? Does the reader feel comfortable in sharing the revelations of such implied intimacy?
These questions will evoke different responses from different readers. But what is clear is that knowing the writings of both the dead women will help the curious reader to understand the subtext as well as the more obvious references.
Byggmästar writes: ‘I know you love bridges – / know that for you all bridges are beautiful.’ How does she know that, and how important is it for the reader to know how she knows it? Fortunately there is a clue. In one of her ‘fragments’ Monroe states that she likes all bridges and that she has never seen an ugly bridge. Byggmästar writes: ‘Every time I walk on a bridge / I think of you / and wonder.’ And both pieces mention the Brooklyn Bridge. Knowledge of the reference here is important: the bridge creates a connection, both literally and metaphorically.
Byggmästar’s work is divided into two parts, twenty-nine pages devoted to each icon. She begins by picturing Monroe lying on a lawn reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. She then addresses Monroe directly over the next twenty-eight pages, with the last poem referring to Monroe’s favourite picture of herself, taken by Cecil Beaton in 1956: ‘You / popped up / from nowhere / with a red carnation / pressed to your breast – / and everything around you / was as smooth as silk / and soft as velvet.’ Knowing the photograph helps, but it is naturally the poet’s reaction to the image and Monroe’s effect in transforming the environment around her by her presence that are significant.
Both Byggmästar and Monroe were born under the sign of Gemini, but she is twinned in a sense with Dickinson as well. Familiarity with the latter’s life and work will also shed light on allusions here, in Byggmästar’s poems addressed to the older icon. (Swedish readers will find a selection of sixty poems in both English and Swedish translation in Ann- Marie Vinde’s Min flod flyter mot dig, Bokverket, 2010.)
To express the force of her feelings for Dickinson,Byggmästar says she needs ‘a stronger word / than love, passion / and ecstasy’, and that word is ‘Us!’ The poem, with its thirteen lines and its anaphora, could have been written by Dickinson herself. Initial repetition also marks the beautiful final poem, the last lines of which run: ‘ Why should I not / linger a lifetime / in the little transparent room of poetry – / like a poet in the edelweiss dress, with its lap full of poems / and the scent of roses?’
There are said to be over 1,600 song settings of Dickinson’s poems in existence. Perhaps someone is working on Byggmästar’s, though it might take a Schubert to do them justice.