Monday, December 23, 2013

Reflections of Enigma the poetry of Melanie Whithaus Part 3: Enigma, a review.

Available HERE
Enigma is slim volume of 12 poems by Melanie Whithaus. When it came to me, by mail on that hot-end-of-summer September day, I was immediately drawn to the cover photo (also by Melanie) of raindrops on a window, possibly a windshield. These raindrops gave me the feeling of something far away and foreign to the hot September I was experiencing.

The writing of Melanie Whithaus is known for its raw and straight-forward voice, and her “no-bars-held” style. These words are written at the end of her bio on the back cover of the chapbook. So, here we are, a sunny September day, Enigma and me.

The first poem is the title poem for the chapbook. “Enigma.” This is a scant piece: Were we once dinosaurs/or are we merely/ fantastical creatures,/longing to be real? I'm left dumbfounded. This is a quiet, nearly peaceful piece. There is nothing raw about this poem. This poem is not a hot sunny September day, as I am living it. This poem is not a raindrops on windshields sort of day either. This poem is something softer, something remarkably more vulnerable. This poem begs of cloud watching or pillow talk. On my first reading of this poem, I know that I should find a different place, both location and head-space to read the remaining 11 poems.

A sultry end of summer evening led me to the walled in cement backyard of our North Denver abode. In the dwindling daylight I resumed the reading of Enigma. In a way, I was waiting for the rawness. I found the straight-forward voice. I gave up on the “no-bars-held” style. What I found was a tough-as-nails feeling in the poetry (and possibly the poet herself) that successfully wove vulnerability and sensuality in the continuity of voice.

“Dear Lover” and “Blood Rush” quickly stand-out. Both poems have a narrative quality to them, they each tell a story. The story goes on for a duration of time that, like a raindrop reflecting the image of the world inverted, goes on forever, maybe even within the walls of second. “Dear Lover” starts last Tuesday, the narrator and the lover are both eight. They live an entire life, “a happily every after” sort of life complete with a white farmhouse and seven children (an eighth on the way). But what's so striking is the ethereal longevity of it: last Tuesday...we were eight. It begs the notion that even at a young age, the uncertainty, the severity of life plays on our daydreams and builds our short unions.

Melanie Whithaus gives us 12 poems in this chapbook. The reoccurring themes: love and loss of love, death, childhood reckonings of disasters and triumphs and living life as an adult with love and loss of love, death, childhood reckonings of disasters and triumphs. “Intoxicated” is not only my favorite poem, but I think it's one where we meet the poet, the vibe and it combines all the above mentioned themes. “I'm ten drinks down the line/and I'm running out of time,” starts the second stanza. We get the idea that the narrator, much like the drunk woman who tells her to live her life, is doing anything but. Ten drinks down the line, and it's really heartbreak for a person, a place and a time. Ten drinks down the line maybe there's a resolution. But what makes “Intoxicated” so extraordinary is at it's basic level it is cathartic like a soiled love affair and it's the comfy buzz that was two or three drinks ago. It's the uncertainty of age, which is so easily toiled with self-doubt. The poem has a careful construction. The poem is a promise of the poet's future too, by which I mean, Melanie Whithaus here in “Intoxicated” is only a fraction of the poet she is going to be.

Enigma has the startling moments of the raw, straight-forward voice, as promised. It also have more lucrative moments rich in white-space and wonder. It is a great mix of tough-as-nails and vulnerability.

Next: An interview with Melanie Whithaus.

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