Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Hypnagogic Whispers of a Modern Berserker

The Hypnagogic Whispers of a Modern Berserker
by Michelle Lyons

A review by Mignon Ariel King

In case the title hasn't tipped you off, it needs to be emphasized that Lyons' voice is that of a nonconformist 21st-century woman. She slams the girl- and woman-crushing formal institutions with which she once had the displeasure of dealing, in addition to one loser of a lover. Intelligent, gut-wrenching observation and sarcasm are her friends. Simply put, if you love Anne Sexton or are drawn to Plath, you'll love Lyons. Girl, Interrupted fan? Well, hold onto your vodka.

The first poem in the collection, "According to the Magazine I Found at the Gym", is a neo-feministic anti-media riff. The tone is unusual in that the narrator slams the stupid mainstream rules and media that assault young women's self-esteem by imposing rules about how women are supposed to look, yet she is reporting more than ranting.

That's her name.
Some bombshell with an orange tank top
Graces the front page. The cover. The color doesn't suit her...
But she's the poster child anyway, for Health (2).

The narrator reads the magazine while working out, using the sidebar to a 'Diet Now!' article to calculate how much time she has spent dieting. She concludes, "The average woman spends a decade of her life trying to lose weight. ...How many years do you think I've wasted/So far?" (3). Her edgy, screw-the-world tone chimes in for "Boy, Interrupted".
The narrator reminds her lover that he promised to visit if she became an inpatient in a mental health facility. She explains, "Well, they've caught wind of me honey...They've locked me away, again (4), and she fantasizes about having sex with him on the floor, "And I have to let myself wish that you would/Come remind me who I am/...Listen to me re-read my old poetry" (5).

"Black Widow Sunshine" reveals Lyons' astoundingly fresh metaphors. "I remembered a boy today/His soul was an empty walk up..." (10). This poem follows one about moving (on):

I guess you could say I've left his chambers
I've crawled out a hidden fissure
--a crack in the hardwood floor
I guess you could argue, I'm free (11).

There are many poems in the collection that compare and contrast sex:violence, sex: loss, lubricant:tears, restraint:spiritual escape, love:loathing, self-awareness: confusion. Not new concepts, but delivered by a very engaging new voice. This is confessional work at its best, with only a few poems being so personal as to elude the reader. Most make larger statements about people in general, regardless of how the monologues are set up. "The Turtle", by comparing turning over a turtle to mistreating a woman, chides how casually one lover destroys another: "You, my friend/Are merely a school boy./A sophomoric narcissist, soaking wet behind your ears...And you are the boy who had nothing better to do...(19).

"Annabella Returns" mocks the worship of plastic images of women: "I want to be a modern day pin-up girl" (24) ...Be a pin-up flapper, upon request./I've got the hair, the dramatic flair" (25). "The Little Black Sheep" invokes the same voice in a pseudo carpe diem poem, with amusing innuendos such as "But, I aimlessly follow your staff" (28-29).

The collection is rounded out with the narrator's responses to other people as they react in various ways to her previous addictions to alcohol and drugs. She mock-responds to her sister's "So what have you been up to lately?" with "I've been having long talks about things like/Method acting. And John Locke. Pantheism..." (33). "My Valentine" begins: "Hello sweet sedation..." (42). The collection comes full circle, the narrator getting the upper hand in a dysfunctional relationship this time, in "The Stolen Mannequin":

Yes, I found myself a new man.
He's not much yet, but...
Wait until I dress him up!
He doesn't even know words like yes and no
Like leave or go... (47)

In the acknowledgments Lyons thanks her insurance for becoming so expensive that she went off her medication. Perhaps medication makes some people better, others just temporarily calmer. This is not wounded-inner-child diary poetry. There is nothing calm or complacently wallowing about this work, and it is just as cathartic to the reader to allow this poet's fantasies, rages, and shouts to tap into one's inner berserker.

Mignon Ariel King is a womanist writer, the editor of two online journals, and a former adjunct professor of English

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