Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jo McDougall's Memoir Daddy's Money: Drama Elaborated by Fancy Style

I could argue that the best prose writers begin as poets, but exceptions would come to mind. Nonetheless, I will say that the best prose writers have a poet's ear for language. Jo McDougall is an established poet who has honed her style from early days with BookMark Press to more recent books from the University of Arkansas Press and Autumn House Press. This first book of prose subtitled "A Memoir of Farm and Family," is out recently from the University of Arkansas Press. McDougall is a lyrical storyteller, with entertaining passages like this:
"When I was about fifteen, Mother insisted I take voice lessons from Gay's aunt Frances. It was rumored Frances had lost her fiance in the war, although no one in that house ever spoke of it. I was immensely undertalented in the singing department, but Miss Frances persevered. Recently I heard an old recording of Mario Lanza singing 'Be My Love,' and Miss Frances's upright piano, the sheet music, and Frances herself--tall, slim, with shoulder-length, curly brown hair--rose before me. I was back in that sweet, disheveled house that smelled of clabbered milk, singing as Frances played 'O Promise Me' or anything by Sigmund Romberg, my mind full of romantic visions, my voice improving not a mite" (71).
The self-deprecating wit, the richly described scenes, and the characters all stay with me.The paragraph is beautifully built, leading up to the final word "mite." It evokes biblical language and hyperbole. It emphasizes the profound lack of talent she had as a youngster, juxtaposed with the tall pile of romantic yearning. Beautiful. "Clabbered" is such a perfect word here, evoking rural wholesomeness, past times, cloying aromas. What a poet. I had trouble putting down this book. Hear McDougall read from it in her own inimitable voice Friday, Jan. 27, 7 pm, at Lawrence's Raven Bookstore, with Al Ortolani, a fine poet from the southeast corner of Kansas called the Little Balkans. This is not to be missed.