canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Dagger Between her Teeth 
by Jennifer LoveGrove
ECW Press, 2002

Reviewed by Jennifer Dales

Read an interview with Jennifer LoveGrove

The Dagger Between her Teeth is Jennifer LoveGrove’s first full-length collection of poetry, and its most interesting subject is female pirates. LoveGrove’s pirate poems are dark, lusty, and dripping with blood, bringing to life the rough world of Anne Bonny and her fellow pirates Mary Read (her lover) and Pierre, who is gay. These poems are based on the lives of real pirates who sailed the seas in the 18th century. Through her poems, LoveGrove explores female violence and ferocity, forces that allow her female pirates to survive and even experience equality, as well as to play out their desires, both sexual and otherwise.

Besides this exploration of feminine violence, LoveGrove’s pirate poems make vivid stories. In the poem "Wedding Present," it’s easy to picture Anne Bonny with mud-covered red hair and a wet dress, slugging back whiskies and knocking a barmaid’s teeth out:

The barmaid tries to toss her
to the storm,
instead loses two
front teeth in the scuffle,
split from her jaw,
rattling Anne’s skirts.
The night Anne marries James Bonny
she gives him a necklace, both talisman
and warning, two teeth
strung up, dangling.

The poems in this book’s other sections explore the effects of death and violence, especially in relation to infants and children. Some of these poems are outstanding, and like her pirate poems, tell stories or bring to life powerful figures. One such poem is "Nightmare Troubadour, " which personifies dark forces: "Children, I visit each of you,/ a satellite dancer,/ black moon invisible from the Earth,/… Now you know where/ nightmares come from:/ I can turn my horned and flaming/ insect head all the way around."

The collection’s weaker poems (appearing in its latter sections) tend to move away from the arena of telling the stories of others and enter into a first-person realm. These poems lack the large, mysterious world that serves as the backdrop and emotional foundation for LoveGrove’s best work—a world of stormy seas, horned monsters, and ferocious pirates; the world in which LoveGrove’s art seems to thrive.

Jennifer Dales is a writer living in Ottawa.







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ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.