Moths Mail the House by Michael Kriesel

Moths Mail the House by Michael Kriesel

Reviews, Vol. 3.1, March 2009
Sunnyoutside, Nov. 2008
ISBN: 978-1-934513-13-2
Paperback, 28 pp., $10
Review by Cynthia Reeser

Michael Kriesel is a Wisconsin poet of my recent discovery who sheds new light on poetry as a fine art form. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer maintained that poetry is “the true mirror of the real nature of the world and life,” and this holds true for Kriesel’s work, which in form, indicates possibility and multiplicity, and in language, is spare and fined down to the essence of a moment.

“Poetry Vending Machine,” like most of the works contained in Moths Mail the House, is deceptively simple. The poems in this volume utilize a form in which three or four variants are presented in columns and comprise the entirety of the poem:

Last night         Last Night         Last night
I was so             I was so              I was so
drunk                depressed            lonely
I tried               I couldn’t            that I
to call               even call             tried to
you but             you                     call you
the phone          so I                     on the
was                   just got               broken
broken              drunk                  phone
so I                   and                     you left
wrote this         wrote this            behind
poem                 poem

Here, the form indicates not only the choice of the reader, but of the poet as well. A reader interprets poetry subjectively by necessity. It is often a poet’s job to remain objective. From both reader and writer, however, poetry presents variants and possibilities, indicating the multiple facets represented by memory within the individual and the multiple perspectives represented by varying objectivities. Such a form begs the question: how would I remember the same event a day after it happened? a year later? 10 years later? Or: how would I write about the event? how would witnesses to the event write about it?

Other poems, such as “Tooth Fairy,” signify more of a shift in narrative movement than multiple takes on an instance. The suggestion is imagistic and almost filmic, and the reader can well imagine a television screen depicting three scenes simultaneously. “Prince of Trees” also suggests movement and a series of snapshots: take one happens among fall leaves; take two, the narrator fixes his father’s old house; take three occurs atop a bicycle. Still other poems, like “Silo,” suggest differing ways of arriving at the same result:

Wood        slowly        becomes        light
silo           tilts            toward          dawn
at              first            dawn            silver
dawn         light           silver            wood

Whether read across or down the columns, the reader arrives at the same final pairing of words, another instance that reveals the precision of language required for such a form. Poems like “Silo”—especially “Souls”—are haiku-like in their deceptive simplicity.

In “Larue,” Kriesel writes, “What we’re not counts too,” and this is true of his form as well. When it comes to word economy, what isn’t there matters as much as what is. But there is much more to these poems than just form: the form informs the content, and does it well. And while the form certainly lends itself to evocative imagery, it is the poet’s careful skill at choosing words that creates the resulting imagery—which, because it is powerful and evocative, often holds up a mirror to life, as Schopenhauer suggested is the function of poetry. Adhering to Schopenhauer’s poetic philosophy, Kriesel’s poetry is a jump in a placid silver lake.

Excerpt from ‘the theory of nights’ by Peter Schwartz

Pan Sweats by David McLean

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