Thursday, April 4, 2013

BPR LIT TRIP 4 with Caitlin Doyle

On day 4 of the Birmingham Poetry Review tour of volume 40, the Steiny Road Poet has decided to have some kitschy fun with the subject of death and has thereby selected Caitlin Doyle’s “Madame Tussaud.” The poem, one of two published in BPR 40, is a portrait of the great wax portrait maker who lived from 1761 to 1850. Doyle taps into the bizarre beginnings of Marie Tussaud’s wax modeling with these opening lines.

She made death masks of executed men,
their severed heads more real in wax than flesh.
Now wax herself, whatever she was then
is more unreal. She could be Mother Goose,

While the poet stays focused on the sculptress, the poem veers into the present day as Tussaud herself, rendered in wax and wearing her signature bonnet trimmed in lace, “meets” contemporary figures such as the British Heroin Chic model Kate Moss, the Chinese American martial artist-actor Bruce Lee, the “Material Girl” singer Madonna, and the drop-dead-gorgeous actor Brad Pitt.

What makes the poem notable is its form and craft. There are four quatrains with the rhyme scheme abac defe ghgi jklk. Most of the lines are ten syllables long. In her combination of words, Doyle employs a subtle sonic sensitivity  producing near rhymes like death and executed, couch and touch, closer and pose. The inverted repetition of death mask (from the opening line) in the last line—“alive enough to be a mask for death” gives the poem a wink of circularity.

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