Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Woods Have Words: Poems of Tribute by Mignon Ariel King

The Woods Have Words: Poems of Tribute by Mignon Ariel King

The Woods Have Words: Poems of Tribute
by Mignon Ariel King
Ibbetson Street Press
Somerville, MA 02143
Copywright 2009 60 pages

To order:

Review by Lo Galluccio

Apparently, Mignon had a Grammie too, to which she dedicates this vivid, rooted, musical collection of poems that seem to grow like the sycamores, out of Boston’s earth. My Grammy was on the Welsh side of my family, but I must confess it really grabbed me; Mignon’s little portrait of the old North End –obviously Italian-- where you are hard-pressed these days to buy a Ricotta pie on Easter. In “Mario the Tailor Works on Wednesdays” she writes:

“and bistros where the bisotti
is mwah and the gelati a tapestry
of smooth, rippled almond.” p3

In Mignon’s book, the City issues reverence, imagery and drama in formal and idiomatic language and so much more -- out of objects and food and people of all stripes….including visceral scenes in institutions, job-sites, apartments, and historical avenues. In King’s book, it’s not just the graceful trees talking, though they do pack their wizened meaning along rivers and parks in Greater Boston, a Greater Boston Mignon knows inside and out. It makes me realize how much of a snob I am for always touting New York as the truly great metropolis in the USA, “fire of my loins,” my Gotham.

What I especially like is the fable-like-realism that Mignon is able to employ for most of these exquisitely concrete episodes of life as she comes of age and then colorfully sketches her fair City’s environs and happenings. Shut up in Brigham and Women’s Hospital, after some procedure, Mignon is fiddling with the oxygen tube and the CD player to get a pumped in bang of Aerosmith, the great Boston rock band. In a delightful punk unraveling, Mignon envisions Steven Tyler in his “nails shiny black, sculpted face and perfect teeth pleading for me to dance with him.” p.14 “Oxygen and Aerosmith {To Steven Tyler.} In her pneumonia-induced dream-state she must decline a dance with the Cherokee-boned rockstar and in the end, humorously reports,

‘Steven was truly hurt, but very forgiving:
Maybe another time, then?”

In her introduction: A City of Trees, she says she hesitates to call the book “autobiographical” because she herself is an embodiment of many women and their perspectives –“urban, multicultural, bookish, educated, creative, professional, happily single, nocturnal, or some combination thereof.” And what is striking about the collection is how comfortable with all these emblems she is while also capturing the love and ambivalence that reigns between the male and female, in poems like “Love without Sex” p .44 and “My First Love” p 37.

In “Another Creation Legend” she invokes the pagan origins of love and poetry from a matriarchal point of view. In a simple ode she runs it down this way:

‘When god was a woman….pagans worshipped
Mere human endeavors, like love.” And ends with:

“I guess when god was a woman
is when poetry was born.” p. 27

In “A Real Job at 9:11 am,” Mignon brilliantly describes the strictures she’s facing, the “prissy temp in wedge heels stuffing envelopes as of with valentines…..” And ends on an ominously poignant note: “Sink-water draining in the ladies’ room sounds like something being strangled.” In a couplet she sums up what others might have just called that sick feeling in the pit of their stomach when they’ve got to face a “real” or “corporate” job. She gives us something more….precise and scary.

Mignon pays tribute to her Daddy – gone now – while also in a kind of choked up nightmare poem describes how his going and coming imprinted her as a child:


“I know it seems finished.
You only left me once,
Yet in my dreams

you are always leaving,” p 30

The bond between them is manifested especially in another great poem about a Boston pub and its fare, pastrami, where she and her Dad used to go and imbibe the great messy stuff. In”Ken’s Pub: When my Father was Alive,” she describes:

“The pickles lured us in, floating like an experiment
In avoiding temptation. But the pastrami’s black edges
sealed the deal for me –“ p 32

That poem is dedicated at the bottom as many of Mignon’s works are to her favorite and local poets – this one to Ed Galing. There are many other finely crafted and fascinating scenes dedicated or let’s say influenced in some mysterious way, to Michael Afaa Weaver, Regie O’Hare Gibson, Doug Holder, Walt Whitman and Sharon Olds, among others.

In a tribute to Regie Gibson, (SCOWL: Ballad of a Face), the streets are the varied constructs (colors?) of race and they also shout their critical relevance:

“I still hear you, there in Roxbury! So here is
one truth written across the face of America.
Feel free to label it my scowl as it trails quietly down
the tan, bronze, caramel, mahogany, black street.”
p. 58

In “Freedom Trail” King perhaps epitomizes her credo as a poet and an artistic person, one which makes her poetry both fascinating and generous to those around her: in Ariel’s work there is an explicit balance between the objective and the deeply-felt subjective:

“Contradictions are okay. One hopes anyhow
that it makes cosmic sense to love both trees
and books, the city and the dirt trails, breathe salt….”

Freedom Trail, p 49

I very highly recommend this wondrous collection. Mignon Ariel King’s work encloses my spirit like a sister of the Boston-planet.

Lo Gallucio is the author of "Sarasota Vll" (Cervena Barva Press)

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