"MASTERLY AND moving. Full of the clarity of a mid-life woman letting go and looking forward, the work is crafted with precision and fully realised in its aim and form.”
These are the words with which poet Robyn Rowland described Bone Fire, the excellent new poetry collection from Susan Millar DuMars which was launched on Monday evening as part of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature.
DuMars recently turned 50 and Bone Fire, published by Salmon, finds her taking stock at this resonant milestone on life’s highway and concluding, in ‘Don’t Try to be Good’, that ‘…misfortune/cures you like smoke’ and ‘What matters/is what you do next.’
Over an afternoon chat Susan tells me about the book’s title; “The word bonfire comes from the phrase bone fire; people in a community would slaughter their animals around Halloween time to have meat through the winter and they would throw the bones of the animals on this enormous fire. It would provide heat at the coldest, darkest, time of the year but also was a way to ward off the spirits.
"I thought that was such a perfect metaphor for what I am writing about, this idea that you come to a place in your life where a lot of people have passed away and a lot of people have passed through and you are not in touch with them anymore. You have to decide which parts of the past are you going to hold on to and which parts are you going to burn; which spirits are you going to let go past and which ones are you going to grab onto? I felt that, at 50, that is a place where I’m at.”
The poems muse on relationships past and present with family, friends and lovers and on the changes the poet feels in herself, as in ‘Reclamation’ which deals with menopause and notes ‘The blood has stopped/and with it the need /to grow anything but older’.
“There are reflections on people who are very important to me and people who I am not in touch with anymore,” Susan notes. “There are quite a few poems about a relationship that was important for me with a man who had mental health issues and this is the first time I have written about that. It was difficult because I want to respect his privacy but I had to start evaluating how that relationship affected me, caring about such a person for so long. That is part of the bone fire idea, what to keep and what to let go.”
Several of the poems warmly celebrate the intimate joys of marriage, such as the sexy and funny ‘Let the dog’ which begins ‘he gets me to take off/my panties by saying/c’mon let the dog/see the rabbit’ and ‘Don’t Tell The Witch’ with its closing line ‘No spell stronger than this loved life.’
“I feel very lucky,” Susan declares. “We’ve come through a storm in the last few years with my husband Kevin’s mother passing and his own health declining somewhat, but that only makes you more conscious of the things you are grateful for. We have a wonderful relationship and we get to do work that we really enjoy and are paid for it and get to write books. That was all I ever wanted from life and I have it.”
Bone Fire is also something we can all be grateful for, it’s available now from good bookshops.