I’ve often wondered how much it really matters if the reader “gets” what the poet means in some of the more cryptic or shall we say intricately wrought poetry out there, or can a poem itself act as an agent of transformation, imparting unique meaning to both the poet and the reader?
This question popped its head up as I read Shoulder Season by poet Ange Mlinko. I hadn’t heard of this author of two other award-winning collections of poetry prior to this review assignment and had no expectations other than those the title inspired—would this be a series of bucolic or naturalist poems? Or perhaps a deeper metaphor was being referenced, something about transition and possibility? I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Customarily I read poetry collections cover to cover like a magazine—I’m interested in the credits and the colophon, and I look upon the table of contents like a sort of summary poem for the collection. Shoulder Season's table of contents had me instantly intrigued with titles like “The Eros of Nothing,” “Gallimaufry,” “X’D the Go Go,” “Sycorax,” and “Rocamadour.”
There’s a meditative quality to Mlinko’s poetry; it’s an invitation to slow down and let the edges blur a little bit. Many of the poems in Shoulder Season read like dream sequences. In “Rocamadour” this is especially so:
O because one is never là-bas for long, holding an infant is like going to Paris.
...And there I was in the Latin Quarter, cathedrals propped like viola de gambas. “Tariq, do you hear the peacock?”
The poems are intricate and subtle in their meaning, musical with a finely orchestrated cadence and the occasional rhyme. There’s humor and immensely imaginative imagery and metaphor throughout. For example in “Win-Win”:
If an orchidophage’s tastebud mangnified resembles an orchid So my buds indubitably mimic pricking ice cream cones.
To most fully appreciate, these poems take time to absorb. I found myself returning to read the collection in the dark, quiet hours of the day, eager to let go of the more conventional orderliness of my mind and sink into the world poetic. With each reading I was drawn into a clever and inspired perception, into a world perhaps defined by poetry like this, poetry whose greatest merit may be in its ability to touch poet and reader uniquely, but with equivalent power.