Thursday, January 30, 2014
In the Museum of Surrender By Jeri Theriault
In the Museum of Surrender
By Jeri Theriault
ISBN: 10 1-978-1-893035-20-1
Review by Dennis Daly
Generating strength from weakness tricks the gatekeepers of our fanciful lives, changes their logic, and opens a multiplicity of doors. Through the magic of her empowering poems Jeri Theriault explores where each of these archival doors leads and conveys both soul-searching wonderment and buffeting sadness. Her chapbook collection, In the Museum of Surrender, is well titled and chock full of antiquities and miscellany.
In the opening piece the poet tries to make sense of life’s impediments by using a very modern tool. She googles “heart.” Then she googles an old lover. Then a defining moment in time. The poem ends with that timely moment, which also doubles as the source of her strength. Theriault explains,
…I google resilience
and joy—only a little surprised
when that same moment
comes up: that summer
day, me, the children,
the flowers. And a plant
I missed in the Peterson’s
Bloodroot, its petals winking
and waving white flags,
while the taproot,
its buried strength—
the very size and shape
of my own heart—
into the dark.
The poem entitled Gloves contrasts cultures of indulgence with cultures of necessity. The poet’s persona buys herself a pair of impractical but nice looking gloves. The Chinese manufacturer’s tag sets her imagination in motion. First she considers the young factory girls who stitch the gloves and their work life. Next she considers Zhihuong, a Chinese student she knows. Her simple description rivets the readers’ attention to the desperate need to better oneself, to rise from weakness, that balances off the purchase of frivolous but needless items. Theriault describes Zhihuong this way,
the Chinese girl in English 10, wearing
pink corduroys, pink sweater—awkward,
dyslexic, her voice bowing. She bends
over crooked letters, her nails startlingly
red. She writes: in my country
75 pupils in class. Teacher may not
Like you. You sit side-by side, almost
On top of. You try to learn
As much as you can.
My favorite poem in this memorable collection, Once Upon a Dress, sparkles off the page. Each line seems to wink at you. Theriault’s Cinderella awkwardly wands herself and winds up enclosed in a glass dress. So how does she get to the ball, you may ask. By forklift, of course. At the heart of the piece the poet pretty much does a number on the Prince. She says,
Next morning, in the way of such tales, they are
married. No one mentions the problem
of her dress, ice mountain, glass
casket. What this bride needs is a hand-on
Prince, or, better yet, her own tool belt, ice
pick, hammer. (Look at him dashing
and daunting, all straight teeth and epaulets.
He doesn’t have a clue.)
The story ends happily ever-after with artistic puns on Cinderella’ s name. I won’t spoil it, but—La, la, la!
Describing the metamorphosis of an artist, Theriault’s poem Fox Heat breathes out rejection, depression, and the rawness of creation with verve and imagistic wisdom. After the poet’s protagonist fails at art and she is dubbed a no-talent, she paints her windows black and turns her world into a fox den. A natural artist emerges, a primitive force. Theriault continues the story,
She calls the spirit of other foxes.
She kills chickens, eats them raw
and paints the walls of her cave
with their blood.
Trees grow near her bed,
willow and oak,
mushrooming through the ceiling
surprising her parents.
The wind is just another
in the dark cave
of fox heat.
Beyond the artistic world reality and truth sometimes intrude and sometimes comfort. Theriault’s flirtatious poem entitled Retrieved makes this very point in a startling way. The poet chronicles the love nods and winks of an unstrung artist and her resulting retreat into a solitary but indulgent world. She struggles to maintain balance by grasping at the sharpness of a fading light. The poet concludes,
I will deny myself nothing.
Night is the pet I trained,
fox is my tamed space,
fierce and quiet, a true companion.
That’s no way to live. My mother’s words—
slivers I retrieve—my own
Theriault’s poem entitled Kintsugi ties this touching chapbook together. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold, thereby gilding weakness with wealth. The poet does the same thing with her art. She sews together faded words, notes, diaries, letter, and recipes of family members with her golden thread. Here’s how the poem opens,
My mother has left me
a box of yellowed
paper—her poems, Memere’s
First Communion note,
tourtiere recipe, letters,
these faded words: God
and make do.
These poems are thoughtfully written and lovingly set. Even the poetic shapes (see above) of these pieces fit their context. Wonderful little book. Surprising big-talent author.