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It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems

by Jeanette Lynes

In this, her fourth collection, St. Francis Xavier University professor Jeanette Lynes gives us a poetic biography of 1960s diva Dusty Springfield. Lynes is perhaps best known as a funny writer, and while It’s Hard Being Queen is by no means devoid of humour, Lynes’ reverence for the sad facts of Springfield’s life don’t allow her to play it for laughs. The result is a compelling and often poignant look at the private life of a celebrity who resisted the prying eyes of fans and media during her lifetime.
    If there’s a problem with this book, it’s that it sometimes contains too much biography and not enough poetry. Several of the poems have the feel of historical episodes dutifully translated into well-crafted poems. Encountering the rhyming playfulness of “The Plenitude of America,” I wished for more formal flair. Reading outstanding set pieces like “A Brief History of Mascara” and “Hotels,” I wished for more digressions from the main theme. The prose monologue “Release,” in the voice of a mental patient who shares a ward with Dusty, made me long for a greater variety of narrative perspectives.
    The predominant voice in the collection is that of a third-person omniscient narrator; notably absent are poems in Dusty’s own voice. This seems like a missed opportunity, particularly given repeated allusions to the fractal nature of Springfield’s identity: “a face/ behind every face” in one poem, “Sound behind sound/ behind sound” in another – not to mention the drag queen who “was her.”
    Nevertheless, what is in the book is consistently well-written and engaging. Lynes clearly identifies with Springfield, who “makes her art/ one syllable at a time,” but she doesn’t romanticize her subject, writing in one of the book’s best pieces “Forget all that phoenix/ rising nonsense. Sheer/ bollocks, the ravings/ of sentimental poets.” Lynes succeeds admirably in making flesh of Dust.