Ahsahta Press at Boise State University
Poems are very like dreams, and dreams, poems: both reveal a great deal about ourselves and reality while being themselves real in very peculiar ways. Linda Dyer's first book, published by Ashanta Press, a press which has published such varied poets as Genevieve Taggard, Linda Bierds, Sandra Alcosser, and Julie Fay, uses narrative and image to prod these paradoxical relationships.
Teeth are truth, and truth can be reality or perfection, as Dyer writes in "My Mother Sends a Picture of Her New Teeth," the poem which is the source of the collection's title, FICTIONAL TEETH: "no one should have teeth this fictional." The poem provides readers no reason to believe it narrates a fiction; Dyer relates a story about her mother's new dentures, and observes that they are "unstained" by her mother's reality: alcoholism, which, as alcohol is made from sugar, tends to destroy the teeth of its victims, and a two pack a day cigarette habit. The poem ends referring to the narrator, Dyer, who compares the way she looks now to an old photograph of her mother, a photograph in which her mother has her original teeth: "The face in the photo / is so like mine in the far mirror: / that woman, smiling, / full of teeth." The narrator is symbolically full of truth; her story is true, and in it, she makes a plea for reality.
As the collection is carefully structured, teeth begin and end the book. In the first poem, "Ledger of Lost Receipts," the ledger is a list of first physical items begun with teeth, then a mix of missing or vanished items (pen caps with tooth marks), less tangible facts (song lyrics), and missing emotions. Calling them "receipts" points up their materiality, as though the memory the items represent purchased them. In the stunning last lines of the last poem in the book, "What I Would Say," teeth, glass, and other nouns or artifacts have moved to their more dream-like symbolic meanings: after a car accident on a mountain, still in shock, the narrator says, "I realized my mouth was full of glass." Glass on the mountainside is death.
Losing teeth is a common dream. Interpretations for symbols in dreams can be found in Dream Dictionaries, just as standard meanings for symbols in art can be found in Symbol Dictionaries and meanings for works are found in regular dictionaries. The dream of losing teeth is sometimes interpreted as a failure to raise children, but it also reflects a concern with appearance or "face." Dyer expresses her anxiety about her heredity and society in such poems as "My Muse: Gravity," where she observes she and her mother "... are each others' / subject matter." In poems including "Ledger of Lost Receipts" and "Hereditary Guess," her father appears as a shadowy father who steals and who has passed, perhaps, a propensity for theft to his children. It is important, then, that in "On the Use of Office Products as Beauty Aids," the poem in which the narrator is caught stealing, she is stealing objects she has converted into beauty.
Symbol and dream and word definitions are different interpretations, often of the same word, which vary across cultures or subcultures. Dyer tracks these differences, as she and her siblings are outcast in Oklahoma in "Votive," pronounce samahdi with an Oklahoma accent in "First Death in Oklahoma," and live behind the wrong initials in "Screen Doors of the 1960s." By compiling lists of ways in which slogans, words, and other types of material language are forgotten, incorrect, or variously interpreted, Linda Dyer tells fresh stories with the ring of truth.
- Catherine Daly