A Hundred Thousand Hours by Gro Dahle
(Translated by Rebecca Wadlinger)
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013; 185 pp
Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin
From the start, the short poems that comprise the book-length A Hundred Thousand Hours are haunted, ominous. The poems which chronicle the more ordinary moments in the mother-daughter relationship around which the narrative centers only serve to make the eeriness of the other poems more pronounced. Yet, the relationship is far from a standard familial one—rather, it is all-encompassing, immersive, and so ambivalent that the daughter kisses her mother while thinking about stabbing her. In one portion, it is unclear whether the mother or daughter is the speaker, but the poems detail vicious anxieties about parenthood, each page revealing a new violent fantasy. Given that the book’s subject matter includes puberty, motherhood, romance, and old age, it is easy to believe that the poems on these nearly 200 pages chart the full expanse of a life (albeit a strange one).
Language is highly figurative and metaphorical here (“I am a trumpet on the floor”),so much so that it is hard to tell at times whether the imagery is literal or not. In one poem, the daughter exits a room via her mother’s uterus (“No other way than out.”), though it is unknown whether this is fanciful or actual.
While this book is a kind of verse novel, “verse” is the operative word, given that the language, rather than the plot or characters, is what compels readers forward.