Peggy Dobreer’s Drop and Dazzle: A Book Review
By: Alexandra Umlas
Peggy Dobreer showed up to the 2018 Poetry Circus at the Griffith Park Merry Go Round
in a “poetry dress,” offering to spin around so that fellow poets could pull a line from the dress and use it as inspiration for a poem. It made for quite a few beautiful moments of poetry in motion and is an image I kept reimagining as I read her newest collection, Drop and Dazzle, from Moon Tide
The collection is one that both grounds and whirls the reader: the “drop” being the
sort of thing one would do when in danger, a darker and more grounded view of the world, and the “dazzle” being the bright flight of lightness and imagination. Dobreer’s poems hold their opposites tenderly and skillfully. Immediately, in “Climbing the Moment of Birth,” the first poem in the collection, we are thrust into a paradoxical place, as the speaker tells us, “What I might confess are secrets / packed like clay into kiln, hardened / fast in the bowl of the breath.” There is nothing certain about the line, as the “might” gives us a sense that anything could happen, and the secrets are both solid, like hardened clay, and ephemeral, like breath.
It is no surprise that these poems are of the body, since Dobreer has a background
in dance, and music and dance show up often in the collection. Music inhabits the fantastic poem, “Scarlet Billows Start to Spread,” which uses lyrics from the catchy yet sinister song “Mack the Knife” as a way to capture evocative recollections of a childhood. However, music is also deeply rooted in the words of the poems themselves, and Dobreer both lulls and rouses the reader with gorgeous sound upon gorgeous sound. There is even a poem titled, “Exquisite Harmonics,” which explores the expanse of sounds themselves, including the “breaking of china / splash against tile / bright tones of glass,” along with tango, stanzas, vibrations, harmonies, and all the things that “fill these forests with sound.”
What surprised me most about this collection were the two sections of prose
poems, which were both imaginative and remarkable in how much of life was packaged into each relatively short block of text. The poems are brimming with an honesty of seeing that gives the reader the images and allows those images to take on other lives. Dobreer’s fourth section, “Scene Play,” gives us vibrant scene after vibrant scene, but doesn’t prescribe what we should think about them. Instead, we find ourselves tethered but floating, like the blimp in “Scene: The Reminder,” where Dobreer writes, “Then I / pass the Goodyear blimp, tied by the nose to the ground, / basket drawn for the night. / I think of Frankie. And the Hustler Casino billboard blinks, let the hand / do the talking. When I pass Camino de Estrella, I / think of John’s new girlfriend. And the metal pins / in Freddie’s fragile arm.” The physical environment the speaker sees blends with the workings of the speaker’s mind, so
that we are swept along with the images, tied to the page, but able to wander through the poems with our own bodies and natures. Here, the fleeting and physical hold hands and chant.
These poems are not just special for their sonic lyricism, or for their physical
specificity, but also because each one is an unapologetic celebration of what exists in the universe. Dobreer’s poems put us in the liminal space between what was and what will be, a place of discovery where we are asked to “consider” rather than to “know.” In “Winter Poem,” the speaker asks the reader to consider a variety of things: a “glacier disappearing,” “bubbles emerging from sand,” the “full aromatic hue” of the Eucalyptus, “the feral glade / and the space just above the crown of your head.” The poem calls us to drop what we are doing and notice the space we are in for that very moment, and then the words put to each thing bathe it in a light that does the dazzling. We are both grounded and lifted, still and dancing through a world that is luxurious in its generosity. Dobreer’s poems ask the reader to do the very thing a ballerina might do when making turns as she dances. The ballerina’s body rotates at one speed, while her eyes “spot” one object and stay there for as long as possible so that the head is whipped around, allowing the ballerina to keep her balance and orientation while also allowing for a continuity of movement. Dobreer’s poems both orient and turn us. In a poem from the last section of the book, “Psyche Before Sleep,” Dobreer imagines Psyche in
her own liminal space, just after crossing the river Styx to reenter the land of the living: “Her eyes flitter in the flashing fulmination / searching for a familiar fork to draw her. / But every direction is absent of affinity. / Not this. Not this. Not that,” and yet we are there, reading and affirming all the way Yes this. Yes this. Yes that.
For more information about Moon Tide Press: https://www.moontidepress.com
For more information about The Poetry Circus: https://www.facebook.com/thepoetrycircus/
Alexandra Umlas lives in Huntington Beach, CA and is a recent graduate of the MFA Poetry program at California State University, Long Beach. You can find her work in Rattle, Mothers Always Write, and Cultural Weekly, among others, or at www.alexandraumlas.com