“Book of Dolls 3” and “Book of Dolls 8” by Bruce Bond were selected last autumn and published in Mid-American Review Volume XLI in 2022.
Something in MAR that we gravitate toward is the peculiar and uncanny. Work that tugs at our emotions on a deep human level and won’t let go. In poetry we look for things that as editors and readers we can’t get out of our head. Lines that we keep returning to long after putting the packet away. We love a poem that knows who it is and what it wants. The doll poems by Bond do a wonderful job at using repetition to bring a sense of movement and unsettling-ness to the piece, but also comfort. For our editorial staff, it was a deep and whole-hearted yes.
“I take them to my therapy session, / the one I have online. To my surprise, / my therapist is broken, arm here, foot / there, lonely head weeping on a chair.” – From “Book of Dolls 3”
I really admire how Bond makes the strange familiar in these two poems. In “Book of Dolls 3,” he characterizes the dolls as a kind of burden, though is closely connected with them, and it feels almost delightful that the speaker gives the therapist a doll. There’s a strange innocence there, I think. In “Book of Dolls 8,” there is this sense of inevitability with this growing doll: “Soon it will become a horror.” which Bond follows up with, “Go on, hold it,” gesturing again to connection. There is a closeness in these burdens, and a strangeness that feels emotionally accessible.
“Imagine a real-time feed of the beach / so tedious with heavy objects it cannot / be imagined. Only suffered, held.” – From “Book of Dolls 8”
In comments shared among readers, Bond’s use of surreal doll imagery—to untether otherwise banal human experiences from the familiar, before bringing them right back to earth—was met with high praise. I felt a keen pace and music in these poems too, speeding unrelentingly to weighty finishes. Dolls are the perfect catalyst for Bond’s exploration of pain: these almost-human objects can be broken, made up, filled with whatever we wish, and exist utterly at the mercy of our imaginations. Bond’s “Book of Dolls” poems ask that we imagine ourselves, too, with such customizability, able to rearrange, detach, and repair our broken parts, or fill ourselves with sand that we might live with a weight which feels truer to a life beyond our often ungraspable suffering.