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Analysis of Susan Mitchell’s <I>Bird: A Memoir</i> Analysis of Susan Mitchell’s Bird: A Memoir,

The narrator seems to delight in the words - their sounds, their varied meanings. Like a bird, she hops from one word to another, savoring the taste of it then flying on to another and another. It is not just the words but the narrator’s life in which she takes such joy. This love of the unpredictability of language symbolizes also the love of the unpredictability of life itself.

"So much between the self and others is maunder and mumble."

Maunder means "to talk in a rambling, foolish or meaningless way." It also means "to move, go, or act in an aimless, confused manner." The narrator seems to maunder in her poem but actually it is not confused or meaningless. Her thoughts tumble one over the other on the page, as they do in her mind. Her words, her language is in constant motion.

"What cages me? What in this wide hugey plain of language
is not mine to spit and spew? What sounds me
trough bars of patois"

Language is infinite and ever-changing. One word begets another. One thought begets another. The plain of language is so vast that it necessitates the creation of the word "hugey." The narrator spits and spews the language, making of it her own language - a language of unleashed thoughts that normally never reach beyond the mind. "What sounds me," she says, making a verb of many meanings. In Law "sounds" means "to have as its basis or foundation (in something)." But here the narrator means more. It seems to mean "to give forth a sound as a call or summons." The use of the word "sounds" is unfixed, in direct contrast to its dictionary definition of "foundation."

As the words fly through the unfixed motion of thought each stanza flows into the next with seeming incoherence. As the words tumble over one another the reader is given the impression of "maundering." While the language appears ‘unfixed’ and ‘in motion’ it is actually fixed - it is the natural drifting of the natural self from one thought to another - "the ocean in commotion."

" Still hidden, still
undisclosed by me, deep
pools of marsh where in winter the ice, uneven in
yodels of foam; doilies frothing
the mouth of a dog; thick, creamy dribblings
crusted over; epicures of drool murmured
to a standstill. But why seven? You ask. Why"

The first sentence in the above stanza is a very long one, encompassing three lines of one stanza and almost four of the next. A river of thought, flowing freely, carries the reader. Then, the sentence abruptly shifts, as the thought of the narrator does. The narrator begins to muse on the construction of the poem itself, wondering why she chooses seven lines per stanza. Along with the narrator’s mind the reader is swept along into a new thought process.

The narrator pulls out words from seemingly nowhere - "ciccus," "bricoleur," "wimble," and "wight" - delighting in their sounds and the rushes of words that follow them. As words fall into the narrator’s thought stream she shifts directions and grasps each one, letting the word carry her thoughts in a new direction. The poem rests in the transitory nature of language and thought. The poem not only sings the melody of language in freefall, it sings the melody of thought and life in constant motion, in constant transformation.

K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 06/19/02 - 2006


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