Friday, March 16, 2007

Review of "The Gardner and the Bees " Helena Minton

Review of The Gardener and the Bees by Helena Minton

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Helen Minton has a new poetry book out called The Gardener and the Bees. Like Emily Dickinson1 and Marianne Moore2, Minton is a modern poet who pays intricate attention to word usage and concrete imagery. In her poems, Minton takes ordinary observations, adds some unusual twists and turns and makes her poetry something special to read. She writes about nature and its influences on human experiences, especially focusing on gardening, flowers, animals, and nature’s relationships with man/woman. She paints with words. Sometimes the tone of a poem is happy; sometimes it’s sad; sometimes it changes from happy to sad; or sometimes it’s simply angry.

And she writes about personal experiences, too, as seen in “The Birch” (p. 26), when the speaker recalled planting a birch with her father and says, “The week before my wedding/how did we find a moment, my father and I, who rarely/worked together with our hands?/During the tissue-paper preparations/it felt urgent that we dig,/heft the compact root ball. Lowered it. Pack in the dirt./Less urgent as we stood back and admired what we’d planted,”(Stanza 1) How more personal can an experience between father and daughter (or son) get?

Or, as read in “Building the Compost” (pp. 16-17), how more personal can a moment be as when the speaker describes a scene where a woman creates a frame for compost upon the request of her husband and Minton writes “Now, he thinks, she will be happy.” and has the woman “…herself moving/toward the thrift/of a woman in wartime,/saving scraps, starting seeds/for a victory garden.” (Stanzas 11-12) Though written in the third person, Minton has the reader appreciate the personal achievement of the woman.

In “The Birch” and “Building the Compost”, Minton has illustrated how the speaker deals with the main masculine figures in her life.

Minton writes with wit and imagination, as viewed in “Wedding Day” (p. 27). She has taken an ordinary, though special, event and changed it into a potentially disastrous one which, through a twist of fate and imagination, everything turns out okay. The speaker says, “Out of the branches, inch-long bodies fell/all afternoon, softly, on the patio,/on the chairs and the tablecloths/as the brown creatures stripped trees of green./My father paid the grandchildren/a penny a bug to collect them.” How unfortunate for the bride and groom and everyone present to experience this act of nature. But, Minton wittingly writes that “The caterpillars don’t appear in any pictures./They never dropped in my hair/or landed on the neck of a guest,/or were caught in David’s Mexican wedding shirt.” So things didn’t turn out as badly as the reader first thought they would. Though Minton’s use of imagery and description and wit, she has captured the reader’s attention and left him/her feeling like the children at the wedding – “…not frightened/as they filled their buckets/strung between the maples limbs,/close to lovely from this distance.” (Stanza 1)

Often she writes with vivid detail and description, as seen in her opening poem “Perennial Bed” (p. 3). The reader can visualize Minton’s bees who “spend hours/on the saucers of rose sedum, their curled legs moving over petals/fleshy as rubber brushes” (Stanza 1) or the lone bee who “lands on a filament/ of coreopsis moonbeam,/floating down, down to the dirt,/then flung back/through the undulating architecture.” (Stanza 2)

Her poetry is often sensual, appealing to the mind and the body, and allows the reader’s mind to look for pleasure3, as read in her poem “The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens”(p. 31), where the speaker “stroll(s) past hibiscus/jacaranda and frangipani,/ through the black shadows of the banyan,/crushed oyster shells underfoot,/in the early morning Florida cold/sharp as a comb across the scalp.” (Stanza 1) The speaker is enjoying herself as she is “trying, as I tried last year,/to learn the difference/between palmate and pinnate, royal and sabal,/and the lower fanned shrubs/which look like palms but are not.” (Stanza 2) The reader is having a pleasant time reading the poem that Minton ends happily questioning, “Who said we should suffer/to study flowers?” (Stanza 4) Minton’s style is sincere, sometimes feminine, sometimes heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking. She doesn’t use traditional stanzas and doesn’t rhyme words, though her sentences flow smoothly, as if the speaker is having a conversation with the reader.

It may take a couple of reads to understand Minton’s inner meanings in her poetry, The Gardener and the Bees is just like the title suggests – a productive, happy yet possibly confrontational experience. As the speaker concludes in “Perennial Bed”,
“Let them sting me,/brash as I am.” (Stanza 3) Minton has written a book of poetry that should be read and enjoyed and discussed by both men and women.
1 “Dickinson, Emily │Introduction: Feminism in Literature”, 2007.
2 “Moore, Marianne │ Introduction: Feminism in Literature”, 2007.
3 John Timpane, Ph.D. with Maureen Watts, Poetry FOR DUMMIES, New York: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2001, p. 31

Pam Rosenblatt/ Ibbetson Update

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