black cover with white lettering and an image of an upside down white (chalk?) horse at the centrebloodthirsty for marriage, Susannah Dickey

Bad Betty Press, 2020   £6.00

A maze of bizarre storytelling

Susannah Dickey’s third pamphlet, bloodthirsty for marriage, is a series of poems heightened by absurdity. Their narratives are packed with visual motifs, attention-seeking in their intensity and surprise. I found myself in a labyrinth of avenues, a maze of joy and pain.

The surreal poem, ‘expanding and contracting’, centres on the voice of an invisible North Antrim grandmother. We see her first as ‘the antique rocking chair’. Salt air, hauntings and ‘hyrax / python falcon’ lead us to her shapeshifting into a welcome mat. An anonymous woman with ‘milk teeth in an old old mouth’ enters the poem. The final lines rest on her reflecting on a melting sun, on lost love:

she says You know if everything good must turn
bad I’m thrilled this is how it goes about it.

Susannah Dickey is an oboe player. Undoubtedly, her specialist knowledge has influenced the poem titled ‘remove the oboe and joy will follow’. The lines play with sounds an oboe — ‘a witch / finger a regular man’s store-bought ginger / stem’ — might create: the music of Debussy or Sloop John B. The instrument’s ability to influence both an orchestra and the audience is explored with sensory power:

The oboe will take you to the forefront
of an orchestra’s mind where it sighs mohair
loneliness. The oboe decides to wake you
with the clamminess of its unplayedness.

The pamphlet is thick with tangential imagery and lateral twists and turns about the eternal themes of love and lust. It demands several readings to appreciate the explosive language and the ways in which the narratives bother the reader. 

Maggie Mackay