Book Review
Alex Andy Phuong

Singing Back to the Sirens by Margaret Deritter:
Answering a Siren Call



Title: Singing Back to the Sirens
Author: Margaret Deritter
Paperback :100 pages
ISBN-10 :195073028X
ISBN-13 : 978-1950730285
Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.25 x 8.5 inches
Publisher : Unsolicited Press (December 13, 2019)
Language: English




Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey is a seminal classic. One of the most iconic scenes is when the sirens attempt to seduce Odysseus and his crew with beguiling songs. Despite their atrociousness, mythical sirens still have a mystical and magically surreal quality to them. That is part of the reason why Margaret Deritter’s first book bears the title, Singing Back to the Sirens.

The language within this poetry collection has a nicely ambiguous quality to it that makes it enchanting. For example, within the first section entitled, “So Many Sang to Me,” there is a poem with the title “First Gay Bar.” This blunt poem presents a very frank and honest depiction of that particular incident. Specifically, the line, “was this sin or salvation?” (7) reveals a sense of self-doubt while also deciphering the complexity of sexuality. Interestingly, the speaker within this poem, “followed her onto the dance floor” (12) as a way to let loose and enjoy the freedom of fulfilling homoerotic desires. Such a poem is raw and graphic, but also has realism given the fact that experimentation does happen in real life.

The second section of this collection, entitled, “Singing Back to Her,” reveals how the unnamed speaker figuratively answers siren calls, and succumbing to passion. For instance, the poem known as “Wedding Cathedral” redefines the traditional marriage with the concluding line, “I feel the trees exhaling” (16). Since trees scientifically exchange carbon dioxide with oxygen, the feeling of having a wedding that crosses gender barriers offers a sense of relief with the notion that it is okay to be gay.

The final line of this collection exhibits how non-heterosexual people are still genuinely and fundamentally human even though they defy the norm. The line, “sing me to sleep” (31) is like asking for a lullaby at the end of any given day in a peaceful way. The musical elements of sirens might be deceptive, but they could also assuage the ones who listen to such songs. Therefore, siren calls might actually do more good than harm.

Homer might have asked his Muse to sing to him as he wrote his epic poems, but Singing Back to the Sirens is almost like a response to the alluring calls intended to bring about falls.


About the writer:
Margaret DeRitter is the poetry editor and copy editor of Encore, a regional magazine based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She was a winner of the 2018 Celery City Chapbook Contest, sponsored by Kalamazoo’s Friends of Poetry, for her chapbook Fly Me to Heaven By Way of New Jersey. Her writing has appeared in the anthologies Surprised By Joy (Wising Up Press) and Queer Around the World (Qommunicate Publishing) and in a number of journals, including The 3288 Review, which nominated her poem “At the top of Sleeping Bear Dunes” for a Pushcart Prize. DeRitter has also written numerous magazine and newspaper articles. She worked for 22 years at the Kalamazoo Gazette and has taught journalism at Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. She was born and raised in New Jersey and has lived in Michigan since college. When not writing or editing, she often paddles Michigan lakes and rivers.

About the reviewer:
Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University—Los Angeles in 2015.  He was a former Statement Magazine editor who currently writes about literature, film, and culture.  He has written film reviews for more than two hundred motion pictures for MovieBoozer, and has contributed to Mindfray.  His writing has appeared in The Bookends Review and The Society of Classical Poets.  Phuong is a Contributing Editor for book reviews at O:JA&L.