“It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems” - Jeanette Lynes

poems

“It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems”
- Jeanette Lynes’ new anthology of Dusty poetry
An exclusive Interview with Jeanette Lynes, by Nancy J. Young of Let’s Talk Dusty!


N:What inspired you to write these poems?

J: A love of Dusty’s music. Hers is one of those voices that gets inside your head and never leaves. I’ve loved her voice since I was a teenaged girl, growing up on an isolated farm in Canada. Her songs used to come to me through a tinny transistor radio, but their sounds were heavenly, nonetheless. “Son of a Preacher Man” represented everything that was steamy, exotic, sensuous, American, to me. As a Canadian, the need to locate an exotic ‘other’ was very important to me. I felt similarly about the early Jackson Five music I used to hear on the stations the radio would pick up late at night, that there was this faraway land where magic voices came from. I didn’t know at the time that Dusty was British. The only British musicians I knew were The Beatles, and I wasn’t that interested in them. I just assumed all music other than the Beatles, was American. I was very naive.

N:You’ve written other books of poems. How did this project differ?

J:Yes, It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems is my fourth collection of poetry. My first two books derive directly from my own life. They are probably fairly typical ‘first collections’. My third book of poems, The Aging Cheerleader’s Alphabet, is probably closest to the Dusty book and maybe even, in some ways, an antecedent or prototype for it. Perhaps I couldn’t have written Dusty without having written the cheerleader book first. The Aging Cheerleader’s Alphabet is about an imaginary cheerleader who feels obsolete and marginalized, but who also fashions her own re-emergence, despite the odds. It was written around 9/11, and is set in autumn, and is, in some ways, a camp elegy. But as importantly, it’s a poetic narrative of emergence. It didn’t occur to me later that the Dusty poems follow a similar trajectory of descent (her difficult North American years) and triumphant re-emergence.

N:What do you mean by a “camp elegy”?

J:The term is probably more trouble than it's worth, but I've been re-reading Susan Sontag's essay on camp, and she discusses artifice. I consider performance to be a type of artifice, and my cheerleader, in my poetry book, is performing an obsolete role. She is an anachronism, an antique. The connection to Dusty is tenuous, I admit, but during the late seventies and early eighties, she was, in mainstream eyes, a voice from the past. You know and I know that there was never a time when Dusty was not 'cool', but within a mainstream context, when heavy metal came into being, Dusty was not paid much attention to, like the cheerleader in my previous book, who then re-emerges as 'cool' more on her own terms. Probably the term 'camp' has devolved into what we now call 'kitsch'. Something outmoded, yet secretly desired by many.

N:Can you explain the title of your book?

J:As Annie Randall mentioned in her interview with you, singers have often been dubbed queens or kings or some other title related to royalty, so I had that in mind, in terms of ‘white queen of soul’. I was also playing with the idea of the drag queen a little, as Dusty had many adoring fans in that community. And “it’s hard being queen” suggests both playfully, but also seriously, what I would think must be the difficulties of living as a celebrity with respect to privacy issues, and so on. And I suppose I am making a bit of an ironic, teasing jibe at her well-known musical perfectionism. It is hard to be perfect.

N:Are you a Dusty fan? If so, tell us a bit about your fandom-origins, and current practices.

J:Yes, I love Dusty. My book is meant as a celebration of her life, and her musical gift to us. I play the same Dusty hits over and over. I watch her on youtube. My favourite Dusty on you tube is "Son of a Preacher Man" -- the one where she is wearing those big floppy bell sleeves is pure GOLD. I also like "Spooky" a lot -- it's so delightfully odd. She's sitting inside that cube and has that weird butterfly thing on around her neck and that oddly colored dress. And then, of course, the black and white video from the sixties of "I Only Want to Be with You." Her movements are so quirky and she is so adorable. More than a million people have watched it. But I love all the videos.

And I am also obsessed with cover versions of her songs, and singers who sing these. I watch these on youtube, too – Joss Stone’s rendition of “Son of a Preacher Man,” for example; I’m interested in how other musicians interpret Dusty, though rarely can anyone come close to the ‘original’.

I’ve ordered Annie Randall’s book and am excited to read it, as well as the other two new books about Dusty. I particularly want to learn more about musical influences on Dusty, and I think Annie Randall’s book explores that. And I can’t wait until the movie starring Nicole Kidman comes out. So I guess you could say I’m an eager consumer of what now seems to be a little industry around Dusty’s musical legacy.

N:In some poems you take on Dusty’s voice and write as if she is speaking. Did you find this daunting or intimidating? How did you try to get inside Dusty’s head?

In other poems you assume narrative voice writing about Dusty. How did you make those choices – when to write in Dusty’s voice and when to adopt a voice to write about her?

J:The voice I adopted came from what the poem demanded. Sometimes, I’d picture a scene – for example, what must it have been like to be in a recording studio where Dusty was working? I’d try to imagine this scenario, and it wouldn’t always necessarily be imagined from Dusty’s point of view. The shifting points of view seemed natural, to me, and I thought they might also give the collection some movement and flow, and help keep it energized. At the risk of sounding corny, I’d listen to the poem, and how it wanted to be ‘told’ and work from there.

A very few poems, like “Some Facts about America” attempt to align themselves quite closely with Dusty’s perspective. But even then, it’s an imagined perspective. Most of the poems are written from the perspective of “she” rather than first-person “I” (as in ‘I, Dusty). Other poems come from various other imagined perspectives, like “The Producer’s Poem” and “Release” and a voice of a Royal emissary in “From Buckingham Palace.” Then there are the free-floating ‘period pieces’ like “A Brief History of Disco,” “A Brief History of Mascara,” and “A Brief History of Vinyl,” which assume their own stances and aren’t trying to ‘be’ the voice of Dusty, either. So in fact, almost no poems attempt to speak as Dusty in the voice of ‘I’ – so yes, I found the prospect of writing as if Dusty were speaking, daunting, though other poets have done it to good effect in persona books.

I used what I’d call a ‘focalized’ point of view – a “she” who is partly me, and partly the Dusty of my imagination. A hybrid sort of thing. I can’t emphasize enough that my book is, as is stated in the final notes, a work of imagination. People who read poetry tend to look for ‘truth’ equivalencies, and it’s tricky when you’re writing about a real person who really lived. So I suppose the ‘she’ was sort of a safety filter that helped free up my imagination when I was writing more than the autobiographical truth-claim that ‘I’ (first person voice) tends to carry along with it. I tried to get inside the time period, and the texture of Dusty’s music, and the mood of the stories told about her that were recorded in the biographies I read (again, another layer removed from Dusty herself) more than ‘Dusty’s head’, if that makes sense. No one can ever really get inside someone else’s head anyway.

N:Did you ever feel ‘the hand of Dusty,’ as Annie Randall describes it – the feeling that Dusty was guiding or influencing what you were writing?

J:During the writing of the book, I had a dream in which I met Dusty, and it was one of the most vivid dreams I’ve had. I was with a friend in a small, empty club with a little shoe-box stage, having drinks. The place was dark and nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly, Dusty made a surprise appearance, and she stood on the shoebox stage and sang, and she couldn’t have been more than twenty feet away from me (in real life, I’d never seen her live). It was incredible. Then her set was over, and my friend said to me, ‘why don’t we invite her to join us’? I wanted to, but I was so terrified and shy and afraid of being rejected – probably insecurity and terror about the poems I was writing in real life along with insecurity about why would a star like her want to sit with an ordinary person like me. I said, ‘oh no, no’, but my friend invited her over to our table, and told her we enjoyed her set immensely. She was very gracious and lovely, and my friend invited her to sit down with us (yes, I know in your dreams). She did. I was desperate to know what she thought of my poetry project about her, and just as I was about to tell her I was writing a book of poems about her, I woke up. I was bitterly disappointed, let me tell you! That’s the closest I got to ‘the hand of Dusty’, though often, during the writing, I felt like I was back in the seventies, the time period when I listened to her most, and that feeling was a powerful propulsion force in the writing.

N:What were your biggest challenges in writing these poems? How long did it take you to complete the manuscript?

J:Geography was a real challenge because I’ve never been to Los Angeles or Ealing, the area of London where Dusty grew up, so I had to imagine these places. I could have tried to get a grant to travel there, I suppose. As it turned out, I did travel, briefly, to London during the summer of 2007, and was elated to pass the Ealing Tube Station, where Dusty, as a girl must have gotten on and off the train, but shortage of time precluded a visit there. On the same trip, I saw the Marble Arch station, where the recording studio was, but again, I was too short of time to really explore, which was a shame. I’d love to have physically gone to more places that Dusty inhabited. I did, however, remember, that she was fond of Ireland, where her mother was from, and the Cliffs of Mohr, and I visited Ireland in summer, 2004, so I carried the memory of that place with me while writing a couple of the later poems. The manuscript, once started, went fairly quickly, considering it was written mainly on weekends during the teaching year. I began just after Christmas, 2006, and completed a first draft by Easter, 2007. After that I edited and revised and tinkered, with the help of my superb editor, Melanie Little, through the winter and spring of 2008.

N:Were there any poems that were particularly difficult for you to write? Why?

J:Yes. The first poem and the last poem were probably most difficult to write. The first poem because its frontal positioning is important and it’s the doorway into the book. It’s a portal, an entry point into someone’s life. I didn’t want it to be too literal, too biographical. I wanted more of a ‘mood piece’, really, and I hope “Dust, Musings” achieves that. I also wanted the opening poem to poise the reader for metamorphosis, for the story of Dusty is also a story of metamorphosis, after all. The final poem, “Last Day,” was incredibly difficult to write because it is so hard to imagine someone’s death, or to imagine death at all. I also wondered if, somehow, it was an invasion of privacy, and I should have stopped before that point. But a couple of biographers I’d read had described Dusty’s funeral in such detail that I couldn’t resist delving into her final hours. I cried when I wrote the last poem – cried like a baby, actually. And I revised the ending heavily.

N:Can you give us some idea of how you revised the ending of that poem?

J:The original ending was overblown and sentimental. I imagined Dusty, in a shining dress, walking into a pure white light. Something like that. Over the top, and out of keeping with a more funky, edgy, ironic voice I'd fashioned for Dusty throughout the book.

N: Which poems in the book are you most proud of and why?

J:At the risk of being immodest, lots of them. I’ve just spoken of the difficult poems, but so many of the other poems were just plain fun to write. They brought me so much pleasure. In addition to the collection’s first and last poems, I think I’m most proud of “Hotels,” “Some Facts about America,” “Ornithology for a Sentimental Planet,” “That Forgotten Light,” “Toronto, Canada,” “Medicine,” and “Release.” Why? Because they seem the most linguistically energized, to me, or they tackle things from an odd angle, or they are playful, or just idiosyncratic. I got a big kick, for example, out of inventing the Dusty drinks in “Medicine.” I’m proud of “Release” because it’s prose, and it’s somewhat daring for me to write prose.

N:What sources of biographical information did you draw upon?

J:Pretty much what you’d expect – the sources that are cited at the back of my book – the extant biographies, DVDs, and the VHS documentary, “Full Circle: The Life and Music of Dusty Springfield.” An interesting article by Patricia Julianna Smith in an anthology called The Queer Sixties. Warren Zanes’ book, Dusty in Memphis, was an important source for me. I studied Dusty’s body movements during her performances on the DVDs and the VHS documentaries.

N:How would you answer the criticism that some may level – that you have invaded Dusty’s privacy? Or that you have been presumptuous about how she felt? What is your attitude toward your subject?

J:Well, first I would direct those leveling these criticisms to the statement in the back of my book, that “this is a work of imagination.” This means that I don’t see my project as any different from those that use historical figures in novels or other creative books, or, for that matter, movies. When we watch a movie based on the life of a real person? – “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” for example, or “Walk the Line” – do we say, ‘goodness, they’ve got it wrong – Johnny Cash’s jaw was not nearly that square’, or ‘Sissy Spacek was much thinner than the real Loretta Lynn’ – or, in “Sweet Dreams,” Patsy Cline had a much broader forehead than Jessica Lange’, therefore, this is a bad movie, etc. We don’t, usually.

Poetry that is inspired by a real person comes under harsher scrutiny. For some there is this expectation that poetry, somehow, should be journalism, or, that it should carry the weight of journalistic ‘truth’. Poetry is not journalism. Poetry is song. Poetry is prayer.
My attitude towards my subject, when it comes to Dusty, has only ever been reverence and humility. If there are negative things in my book, they are reflections of the cruel, homophobic society Dusty lived in and that we, unfortunately, still inhabit. I know I can never really ‘know’ Dusty or ‘get inside her head’. I can only imagine her situations; my imaginings are purely speculative, as I never met Dusty. But if you love someone’s art, why should you stay silent about that love? I never met Sappho or Emily Dickinson, either; does that mean I should not write about Sappho, or Emily Dickinson? I write in order to celebrate and commemorate.

N:What effects are you hoping your poems will have on the reader?

J:I only ever hope my poems will bring some readers some pleasure. And I would love it if the poems took them back to Dusty’s music.

N:What is the legacy of this project for you, as a poet, and a person?

J:I’m really proud of my book. It’s probably my riskiest and most ambitious project. I’m also proud of the fact that it is the first poetry book published by the excellent new Canadian publisher, Freehand Books. It was an honour to have been their inaugural poetry book. On a more personal level, writing the poems and seeing them take shape as a book, brought me profound pleasure and satisfaction. Through this project, I also met some wonderful new friends and colleagues.

N:Risky and ambitious in what way/s?

J:In numerous ways. For one thing, the project forced me to really sustain my attention, which is a good discipline for me. I tend to flit from thing to thing. So I mean the sheer ambition of focused attention. 'Risky' in the sense that I'd never before delved into the life of a famous person, and I knew the whole issue of 'imagination' versus 'truth' would come into play.

N: Have you done any public readings of your poems, and if so, what has the response been? And did I hear you had a reading on youtube also?

J:I've done many public readings, nearly all of them in Canada. I've been fortunate in that my publisher of It's Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems was very proactive in securing me spots in literary festivals, and that has been wonderful. People seem to enjoy the Dusty poems, especially in the way they bring back memories of particular times in their lives. You know - 'I was just starting college when 'such and such' song came out and your poem reminded me of that'. We mark our personal histories with music to an amazing extent. I love giving public readings. And yes, I tried a little experiment on you tube last summer, by reading one of the poems in the book. It was scary, but I'm glad I did it. I found a blond hairpiece, too, and a vintage top I'd had in my closet for ages.

N:Thank you for taking the time to talk with Let’s Talk Dusty! and good luck with you book, Jeanette.

J:Nancy, thank you very much for your stimulating and insightful questions; it has been a pleasure to have this conversation with you!


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Sentiment and Objective Correlative in Jeanette Lynes’
“It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems”

The term “objective correlative” was popularized by T. S. Eliot in his 1919 essay on Hamlet. Objective correlative refers to the concrete details—objects—in a piece of literature that correlate to an emotion. In other words, an authentic corresponding emotion in the reader/ audience can be drawn forth by a set of appropriately matched objective elements—images, sounds, details, a scene, setting, series of events, and so forth—rendered by the writer. As Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia (1996) explains, “Eliot was arguing for a precise relationship between words and things, and against vague uses of language; to him, a poetry . . . taken up with abstractions rather than things, could not evoke real emotion but only describe it.” Eliot insisted upon a specific objective correlative to represent and thus communicate an abstract emotion.

The distinction between sentiment and sentimentality is closely related to the use of the objective correlative. Sentiment refers to the emotional and intellectual response the writing brings forth in a reader. Sentimentality refers to a solely emotional response, and one not earned by an objective correlative. Brooks and Warren (1958) claim that “sentimentality always involves an implied demand on the part of the writer for more emotional response than the situation warrants” (qtd. in Wilke, 1967, p. 575). Sentimentality is dishonest: a mood may be “subdued to one that is too uniformly kind, tender, and compassionate to be quite natural,”; this falseness “sickens us with its sweetness like the drop of pure sugar at the bottom of a cup” (Woolf, 2004, p. 5). Perrine (1963) further explains that “[s]entimental literature . . . aims primarily at stimulating the emotions directly rather than at communicating experience truly and freshly; it depends on trite and well-tried formulas for exciting emotion and is unfaithful to the full complexity of human experience” [italics mine] (qtd. in Wilke, 1967, p. 575). One writer gives the following advice for evoking sentiment in poetry or prose:

Use specific images and situations, not general/abstract ones.
Don’t rely on adjectives
Don’t rely on clichés or hackneyed subject matter
Don’t’ tell the reader what to feel, let him/her experience feelings along with the character
Use events/images that surprise your reader (Writer Bug, 2007).

Jeanette Lynes (2008) new book It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems serves as a model for expressing sentiment v. sentimentality through the skillful use of the objective correlative. If ever a subject were ripe for sentimentality, Dusty Springfield is one. Some biographers cling to clichéd storylines, such as the self-hating “tragic lesbian,” (Randall, Interview, 2008), rather than attempt to relate the complexities of her life. As a poetic biography, Lynes’ book “has to . . . embody a life and It’s Hard Being Queen succeeds wonderfully as something both regal and gloriously wrecked” (Davis, 2008). As Annie J. Randall rightfully describes in her review, Jeanette Lynes has “an eye/ear for detail that academics can only dream of” (Review, 2008). Through examining her use of such techniques, however, I hope to learn more about how to bring that dream to life in my own academic work.

In “A Sonic Map of Childhood,” Lynes effectively uses the senses of sound and touch as the objective correlative. The poem opens with sound: “Sirens swamp her crib. Air raids./No one believes she remembers this,” in reference to the 1940-41 Nazi blitz on London when Dusty was a baby. Lynes next gives us the “nightly sound” of Jelly Roll Morton’s records coming from Dusty’s father’s room, while in another her mother listens to The Goon Show, and “her brother [is] mangling his guitar upstairs.” Her parents are having a “row” which the music cannot drown out, nor can her mother’s “Irish sobs.” In two stanzas Lynes shows us a family, not as a unit, but as individuals staked out in separate rooms, each reverberating with a distinct noise that is incompatible with the others. The scene—of one- or two-year-old Mary trapped in her crib, bombarded with the noise of air raid sirens, her parents’ shouting, her mother’s crying, her brother’s crude guitar playing—corresponds exactly with the sentiment of overwhelming auditory chaos that the infant cannot ignore or control.

The next stanza describes Mary “taking the long way home” from convent school, in order to hear the “deep music” from “the dark people from warm continents” in her suburban neighborhood. “This means scolding,” but “she doesn’t care. Lots of reasons/ for getting home late, this is only one of them.” In contrast to the disturbing onslaught of noise in the O’Brien household depicted in the previous stanzas, this rhythmic music lures Dusty to its world. This world also stands in contrast to the noisy house where she cannot be heard: “No one ever believes her,” Lynes tell us again. “Even when she grasps/the hot water pipes until her hands redden/ and tells the people in their different rooms,/her scarlet palms raised—look—even then they don’t/ believe her.” Even if they do “believe her,” it’s “not enough to stop shouting,/ bashing at innocent guitars, shattering crockery.” Again the sounds of arguments and guitar playing express the anger and confusion in the child’s home. No longer is the mother crying her Irish tears; she is “shattering crockery”—throwing dishes across a room to crash against the wall. The scene Lynes paints through the sense of sound and touch gives rise to a feeling of desperation: the alienated individuals act out in louder and louder ways, so ignoring the daughter that she harms herself to gain a voice, to get attention. Instead of ending the poem at a point where we might simply feel pity for young Mary, Lynes leads us to a more complicated place when she says that the O’Brien family has “no inkling how far into the past her ears/ extend. She can hear clear back to cave families.” This primal scene links back to the “deep music” from “the dark people from warm continents,” suggesting that Mary O’Brien’s collective unconscious extends back to the first humans’ need to make sound, to be heard. That making music is her destiny. The image of hearing “clear back to cave families” helps the reader feel both the burden and gift that sound holds for this child.

The subject of “A Sonic Map of Childhood” provides Lynes with many opportunities to lapse into sentimentality. She could paint her scene with adjectives—“dysfunctional,” “scary,” “alienated,” “desperate”; instead she uses imagery to bring to life the scenes that convey those moods and feelings. Likewise, she tells us the music is “deep,”--and later connects it to “cave families,”-- avoiding empty clichés like “primitive” or hollow adjectives like “authentic.” We are horrified by the scene, but also grounded by its primordial affect, and amazed at the strength of this child, and her need to be heard—complex and earned sentiments.

Lynes likewise avoids the sentimental in “Brief History of Vinyl (later).” She begins by declaring “A record is a palimpsest, an incest/of sound”: a “drill-bit riding a carousel/at night,” a “whooping layer cake” that “not even the piggiest piglets among you can ever eat your way/to the bottom.” The very metaphors she employs evoke the layered complexity of recorded sound. The poem catalogues the less than comforting experiences of Dusty that lay embedded in her voice, biographical details that fans like me are familiar with:
--Buddy Rich

is calling her a bitch, there, a limey
broad. That human thud you can’t hear
is old Ida Metzger sailing onto Dusty’s
roadster’s hood. Then there’s wretched
blubbering Mary O’Brien won’t that
bloody cow stop and a myriad of other
frequencies you’re not picking up—
the clanking of eyelashes finale
of teacups hitting the wall Martha Reeves
howling as sardines fly into her
exquisite cocoa collarbones.
You can’t hear any of this.

This layering of sounds the record listener “can’t hear” creates an objective correlative that gives us a feeling for the vast array of experience that lay behind the singer’s voice: inner and outer torment, to be sure; guilt, no doubt; but also the thrill of throwing plates in the studio and food at her parties. The whole scene embodies what Dusty said of herself—don’t be too “get-atable” (Cross, 1999). Not even the “piggiest of piglets”—those of us most craving for an understanding of Dusty—are capable of receiving the full picture. But in this frustration we must admit her complexity.

Rescuing an animal from harm is a potent scene for sentimentality, but Lynes resists the temptation. She uses Dusty picking up a lost animal as an objective correlative to convey sentiment. “The Future (as seen from San Fernando Valley),” depicts Dusty speeding to prison to visit her abusive lover; she knows she “will rough her up with words,/ verbal headlocks, it will hurt like hell.” The poem notes that “Her car’s loaded with cat food”; indeed Dusty was always prepared to help a stray feline. She also supported The Wildlife Waystation, a refuge in the Angeles Forest, that took in former movie and circus animals as well as exotic “pets” that had outgrown their wealthy owners. This poem gives us the scene of one such rescue. Dusty spots “yellow eyes flicker[ing] at the road’s rim” and pulls over to find a coyote that “wears a diamond-studded collar, doesn’t/ know who it is. It yelps terrible songs/ she can’t ignore. She opens her door.” Juxtaposed against this scene, Lynes gives voice to Dusty’s “livid” lover: “how could she pick/ some dumb fucking animal over her, how?” As “[h]er curses/ careen through glass, lodge/ in the singer’s heart,”

. . . the dog
who’s not a dog
locked in Dusty’s car
in the prison parking lot
claws her leather seats
to shreds.

There is no sentimentality here. These scenes bring to life the abstract ideas: kindness met with abuse, the futility of domesticating a wild animal of any species.
Several other poems similarly illustrate Lynes’ techniques. “Laurel Canyon, 1975” offers a scene of Dusty’s California life several years after she’d moved from Britain. By this time her career was in the toilet, she was cutting herself, abusing drugs, and drinking heavily. The chaos and bleakness of her life is rendered through the objective correlative of her swimming pool littered with debris she’d thrown in it. In contrast, the few bright spots of her life are downers, cocktails, sexual interludes, and ladies on the professional tennis circuit.
Her wrists are no longer safe. The Fiesta plates quake on their shelves.
She’s sick of the riche, the burnt hills. She’s not riche anymore. As for the pool,
swimming, she never did learn. Fondue forks float amid a molder
of hibiscus petals. Fuck fondue. All the scared little saucers.
She’s sung no songs for three years. What’s she got?
Gorilla biscuits, sweet interludes, Quaaludes, the girlies in their
tennis whites. Martinis . . . .”

Rather than telling us to feel pity for Dusty, Lynes shows us a scene that leave no doubt that without her singing career, Dusty was lost.

Lynes uses a similar sort of cataloging of detail in “Some of the Things She Did for Money.” Rather than tell us Dusty was desperate and largely forgotten in 1985 when she accepted a recording contract from Peter Stringfellow, new owner of the once respectable London Hippodrome venue, she paints the scene of her performance, without sentimentality:

No one warned her she’d sing
after the midget in the blonde wig silver gown
and before Freddy the Trained Dog
peed in a highly artistic arc. Worst of all
the circus master, dreaming himself
Hugh Hefner, slapping the bottoms
of geyser-bosomed almost-models
so young they couldn’t quite place her
though she seemed
a tad familiar (this can happen
when you’re gone.)

The object correlative leaves us wincing, and we protective types want to scoop her up and take her away from this crude and garish stage, and back into her world of fame, where her troubles were kept at bay. Not because the poet has said Dusty needed help, but because she showed us, in horrifying detail, that our heroine has been reduced to a freak act in a glorified strip club.

In “Harpsden Bottom,” Lynes allows us to visualize what Dusty might have seen through the window of her “final house,” as she lay dying, another scene a lesser writer could be tempted to sentimentalize. Instead we are given succinct details, images that surprise us—a “tiny golfer” who bogeys, a vision that sets her to think sympathetically about how “it’s more/ than a game.” The “half moon chair” that “has followed her/ across the globe and back” hangs from a rafter, designated an “adored pendulum.” Nourishment consists of “stacked/ cucumber sandwiches, morphine tabs.” The objective correlative that depicts the imaginative kindness of her caretakers closes the poem:

Later they’ll install her by the window,
switch on hundreds of white lights
strung through the trees, a forest
to glow her
to sleep.

Lynes’ work inspires me to render the importance of Dusty and her music in thick description. Not simplify or reduce the mystery, but to represent those parts that might be glimpsed, to use the objective correlative to evoke the honest sentiment she and her fans deserve.


References

Cross, S. (Producer and Director). (1999). Dusty Definitely BBC. Co-Production NVC Arts.
Davis, B.J. (September 10, 2008). Review of It’s hard being queen: The Dusty Springfield poems by
Jeanette Lynes. Eye Weekly.com Retrieved 25 October 2008.
Lynes, J. (2008). It’s hard being queen: The Dusty Springfield poems. Calgary: Freehand
Books.
Objective Correlative. (1996, October). Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 25,
2008, from Literary Reference Center database.
Randall, A.J. Interview with Let’s Talk Dusty! Accessed 26 October 2008.
Randall, A. J. “Wonderfully Original Insights.” Review of It’s hard being queen: The Dusty
Springfield poems. Accessed 26 October 2008.
Wilke, E. “What is sentimentality?” College English. V 28. No. 8 (May 1967), pp. 564-575.
Woolf, V. (2004). “The Sentimental Journey” in The Common Reader, Second Series. Retrieved 25 October 2008. Web edition published by eBooks @Adelaide.
Writer Bug. Blog. “Lesson #2: sentiment vs. sentimentality” (July 3, 2007). Accessed 25 October 2008.