On Thursday evening while the sun was still up and Miami University students were still lounged in lawns enjoying an unusually pleasantly warm day, Michelle Boisseau’s performed many poems from her new book A Sunday in God-Years in Leonard Theater. She began her reading evoking the sweet fresh smells of the spring day with her poem “Birthday” which Michelle explained is “about a day like today”. Although not all the poems were like the pleasant budding spring day we enjoyed many engaged a fresh view of the poet’s world through their nature imagery. Hardly any of her poems escaped without a naturalist image. Even her poem “The Sad Book of Fun” which Boisseau with a humorous tone described as “sorta a view of the Bush Administration” didn’t escape without a “sunset” in the opening line. Boisseau’s commentary between poems made the reading quite enjoyable. She had a wonderful sense of humor that was both dry and witty but managed to honor the hard work of her poems and never was apologetic. Boisseau poems were frequently funny and she read them carefully without manipulating the tone of her written words.
Her long piece “A Reckoning” received many of these introductions that maintained seriousness rather than so much humor to honor their subject matter. In these poems, Boisseau raises questions about identity and her own feelings of guilt by confronting her ancestors’ participation in slavery. The poems are haunted by the voices Boisseau attributed to her ancestors and even by those they afflicted. Boisseau had just finished reading a poem that is in completely Gibson’s, a runaway slave, point of view of his recapture, when she explained her approach to mitigating the speakers of her poem. Through her poem Gibson she recognizes her part in speaking for a person who was already oppressed in his own time. Her poem “Gibson” confronts the problem of speaking for another when one of her poem’s speakers, Gibson, confronts his author by saying “though you try to puppet me/ what happened to me is not/ for you to know.”
Boisseau shared that she was once from Cincinnati and now lived near the border of Kansas and Missouri. One of the last poems Boisseau read was “Across the Borderlands, the Wind”. To introduce the poem, Boisseau discussed her hometown Cincinnati as a borderland, claiming that to her growing up “Columbus always seemed safe, because you’re surrounded by other Ohioans”. Although, her introduction was light hearted the poem is quite serious about it’s subject matter. Occasionally though she let in a little humor like when she writes “By war, treaty, algebra and surveyors in knee britches.” Her line starts off so serious with war then the poet smartly leaves of with the silly surveyors just doing their job in knee britches. For Boisseau the issue of boundaries is a curious one and one worth pondering as I did in the following days of her reading.