Montreal poet Domenica Martinello comes with impressive early-career credentials, including the Bronwen Wallace Award shortlist and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. All Day I Dream About Sirens—a.k.a. ADIDAS—is her first full-length collection.
Writing about myth and folklore never goes out of style, with every writer putting their own (often irreverent) stamp on ancestral tales. Sirens—and mermaids and many other fishy females—are ripe for the feminist revisit they get in All Day I Dream About Sirens.
If it’s supernatural, female and wet (and likely European), it comes up in this book. Martinello treats her sirens broadly, handling not only the ubiquitous mermaid and the less-understood siren, but all manner of female water-spirits. The Starbucks logo looms green and large in the book’s psychic space, and Martinello quotes an article in Slate pointing out that the Starbucks fish-woman is really a melusine, with a “split tail”—the better to have sex with.
The Starbucks logo isn’t the book’s only peck at contemporary culture. Martinello merges The Odyssey with Game of Thrones in “Circe on Sundays,” in which Circe the nymph/sorceress is both fascinated and dismayed with her namesake, Cersei Lannister (“Somewhere a producer is turned into a dog”). Martinello also takes on Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
In its expansive net-casting (sorry), the book is a catalogue of fish-women, and Martinello’s take on the catalogue or list is refreshing. She excels, not just at lists, exactly, but in crafty parallelism creating extended list-like forms. Take this excerpt from the prose poem “Refrain on the Rocks” (one of several poems in the book by that name): “Mixed feelings on the rocks (repeat X2) Booze (repeat X3) on the rocks (end stop) Water to wine (pause) on the rocks (slow) Drowned body (slowly, hushed) singing (ellipsis) on the rocks (end stop).”
Or likewise in “Bait Song,” also without line breaks: “undine – iodine – nixie: nokken: nicor: neck – blighted bra shells bite bite – nereids – twitter deity – potamides – moisture-rich serum dab dab – limnad – splash –”. The lists aren’t quite breathless, but they do make you swim up for air.
The centrefold of the catalogue is, perhaps, Parthenope, the best-known of the sirens encountered by Odysseus. She appears repeatedly in ADIDAS, and, indeed, The Odyssey runs like water through the book. In “Cattle of the Sun”—Odysseus’s crew got into a lot of trouble eating the sun-god’s cows, if you’ll recall—we’re told how “boys” will “launch a thousand ships / on your face.”
Martinello references Joyce’s Ulysses as well, mimicking a Joycean style in “O Jamesy”: “I climbed out onto the fire escape in my slippers in my pink underwear in his long-sleeved shirt without a bra a scent unweaving tobacco sweetmeat cologne blood pudding deodorant a coded map in the fabric controlling each breath.”
The book is capped off with a fascinating set of notes, where, among other things, Martinello references Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English. The sirens, Wilson points out, have been consistently misinterpreted by male translators, who made them into beings of beauty rather than what, in Wilson’s view, they were—beings of knowledge. Martinello plays with this tricksy translation in one of ADIDAS’s “Refrain on the Rocks” poems.
Although Martinello does venture into personal territory when she takes us across the sea to Italy (where tales of classical sirens are woven into the landscape) and into her family history, All Day I Dream About Sirens remains primarily an impressive catalogue of techniques—and of slippery stories of slippery women.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.