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Musca Domestica (Barnard New Women Poets Series) Paperback – April 21, 2000
From Publishers Weekly
Stretching the image of a fly-on-the-wall to its hilarious and surprisingly weighty breaking point, Hume's debut swings in and out of the fragmented, microcosmic prospective of the title organism--the common house fly-and mines "domestica" for its many insinuations of the roles middle-class adult women assume within houses. Calling the poems "a flypaper palimpsest," Hume's speaker sometimes morphs into her controlling metaphor ("I am climbing into sidewalk-mica charging a bus window"), sometimes indirectly skims back and forth across it: "I'll be the picture of flightiness today." When they're on, the poems dive right into the contradictory heart of hermetic household existence. Adopting the famously house-dwelling Dickinson's habit of including alternate phrases at the bottom of the page, a section of six poems at the book's center are paradoxically the most forceful in their diffusions: "Revolving as if the key/ to propulsion were a belief/ in vanishing helixed to the brain// Glass jars shake in the dark;/ we eat sugar from spilling handfuls/ because starving requires// Her head stolen, her arm still curved/ against her husbands back ." Heather McHugh picked the book for this year's Barnard New Women Poets Prize, and Susan Wheeler checks in with a blurb; Hume's thick, fast-moving stanzas recall both poets. Her work might best be called by the emergent term "ellipticist," in that its verbal fugues circle around a stable subjectivity and elevated lyricism, here offering funny and baroque recastings of identity's misfirings. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
One finds here a powerful search for the face of the human hidden, or sequestered, among the myriad things which Christine Hume's profuse lexicon and agile attention bring to the surface of her work. As intricate as a medieval tapestry, Musca Domestica shows how imagined worlds are forms of knowledge about the real world in which we live. This book is an engrossing adventure into the unknown as it shares, questions, and reinvents the boundaries of the known: 'caterpillar-shape link fetal-shape link bullet-shape link question mark.' -Ann Lauterbach, author of On A Stair
"In Christine Hume's new book, Musca Domestica, the poems are so rich and dense they seem not merely to be written on the page, but they seem to be embossed upon it, driven into it-or, as she says, ‘stitch[ed] up . . . in devotion to inner commands, whatever the invisible demands.’ These poems are almost tactile: Musca Domestica is a fabrication, close-textured and substantial, heavily worked and demanding. This is poetry to aspire to. It is extravagant, intelligent, and lavishly articulated." -Lynn Emanuel, author of Then, Suddenly
"Marvelous thick, 'high' language characterizes this collection, from the tour-de-force of the opening poem's meditation on the word 'fly' to an extraordinary final trilogy's fusing of notions which are often, these days, held to be opposing: transparency and fragmentation, self and the impersonal. Musca Domestica is both the common household fly and a constellation. These moving poems have the gravity of the unflinching and the dazzle of stars." -Susan Wheeler, author of Smokes
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Many of the negative reviews of Musca Domestica stem from misconceptions.
Several reviewers have complained that there is no emotion to Hume's poetry, implying that a work must be emotional to be poetic. The implied point is debatable, but let's clear the air and say that her work IS largely intellectual. If you are looking for accessible poetry, this is not the book to choose. If you are looking for the avant-garde, poetry that requires several readings, or poetry that specifically tries to deconstruct linguistic norms, THEN you should choose Musca Domestica.
Regarding two points made by a recent reviewer: that the book is disconnected in content and that, if it was great, Hume would have immediately followed it with another. First of all, the book is tightly bound by a thematic/linguistic link: the use of the fly imagery. Another reviewer even lamented this fact, claiming that it leaves little room for originality (leaving me to wonder what that reviewer thinks of formal constraints such as sonnets, quatrains, etc). The opening poem is essentially a list of definitions and phrases associated with the word fly. Virtually all the poems in the book play in some way or another with this word, and even those that deviate from a strict link are still bound by the haphazard nature of a fly's path. I repeat, the path is not narrative but thematic. Secondly, the majority of poets do not operate on a publishing scale like Stephen King. As a general rule, the ones who turn out books of poetry by the handful are self- or vanity-published and very elementary (read: Hallmark verse). There is no timeline which a poet must stick to in order to be "good."
The last point is one that several reviewers have already made: Modern vs. Postmodern. Hume is primarly a Postmodern poet. I won't take umbrage with the reviewers who dislike Postmodernism as a whole; that is their perogative. But please, don't disparage Hume for not writing like a Modernist. Apples to oranges.
Whether you're going to praise or condemn Musca Domestica (and I continue to praise it), please do so on its own merits and place within Poetry.
In any case, potential buyers, don't be discouraged by these nonsensical reviews. 'Musca Domestica' is an incredibly rewarding book: the poems are only difficult in the way that the most intriguing and beautiful puzzles are difficult. These poems reward in every way: Ms. Hume manages to be funny and poignant and provoactive and weird all at once, and the more time you spend with this book the more delightful it becomes.
Give 'Musca Domestica' a try -- the poems have earned it, and the book will richly repay your attention!
And to you 'readers' in the one-star crowd: snap out of it, kids.