Sunday, May 3, 2009

Michelle Boisseau

I too attended Michelle Boisseau's reading, and I too found her work interesting and thought-provoking. Perhaps more interesting/provocative was her between-poem banter-- but onto the poems.

I respectfully disagree with Ellie's claim that Boisseau is interested in theology ("I don't believe a big mind regards all sparrows" [Monstrus]) or creating a "wholesome remembrance of the past"-- in fact, I'd say just the opposite is true. Boisseau does search for meaning, but that search is sidelined to a purpose for creating a mythos, an explanation of things she can hold onto. She puts herself in the role of God[dess] or at least prophet by exploring her family's geneaology then creating the (hi)stories from there. For instance, as Stepha and Steph pointed out, her extended poems about Gibson, a runaway slave owned by Boisseau's great-great-grandfather, ventriloquize both the grandfather's voices and Gibson's, in addition to using found language from the slave notice Boisseau senior posted. Boisseau crafts these poems carefully, but as Gibson says in his eponymous poem, "though you try to puppet me, what happened/ is not for you to know."

But that's the thing about poetry: "you play with the facts." So Boisseau continues her myth-making, from the creation of the world with "Hawaii's nipples steaming in the ocean" in "Elegy to Titanumus" to an exploration of both physical and psychological borders of "mountain ranges, threadbare frontiers" in "Across the Borderland, a Wind." It is here, outside of Boisseau's invented world-- here, reality-- that her authority falters; her position changes from god to observer. But it is here, for me, that her work is the most interesting; what Stepha calls confessionalism, I call apt description: "childhood is a nicked dark trunk/when you move, you move" ("Time Done Is Dark"), "full of petals-- feathers to the asphalt" ("Birthday") and smart wordplay: "spring snow sparking" ("Time Done is Dark"). Either way, Boisseau doesn't over-complicate or overstate; in "Ruminator", her narrator states plainly, "don't misunderstand/I am a cow...don't continue to misunderstand/there is a cow/there is a field."

Which seems, more than elegance, or spare beauty, or myth, to be the connecting thread between her poems: legibility. Whether making legible her own part in the responsibility of ancestor's sins or her place in this world, she plays with the facts but tells her stories straight.

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