Reviews, Vol. 7.4, Dec. 2013
Saddle stitched, 16 pp., $11
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Mimesis, Synaptic, a brief collection of ten untitled prose poems, is the latest MIEL chapbook from Berliner Laressa Dickey. MIEL, a relative newcomer to publishing (est. 2011) sets its focus on “experimental and thought-provoking work.” Dickey’s work certainly is both.
In this book at least, the poet’s signature of craft is what I would call augmentation: Each line is followed by another line that brings the ideas to a next level, bringing about a push forward, a forward momentum that drives the poem. With this augmented form, however, the next lines make a leap—sometimes of logic, sometimes in the events or imagery—that requires of the reader some work in order to make the connections, to bridge the gap. The sixth poem in the book reads,
Cover the mind with a hat. Is it here (point to heart) or here (point to pelvis)? You can’t keep saying you ate mackerel out of a can, or that your father made popcorn in a cast iron skillet on the stove. Every evening duties persist. Where do these movements come from?
The reader is forced to search for a common thread, something that binds it all together, these seemingly disparate ideas and images. Sometimes this is effective, sometimes not; sometimes this augmentation begets an energy, and other times, lends to a sense that it is all too diffuse to make sense of. But the technique almost always makes for interesting, if undiscernible, work. But in this technique, the title perhaps comes into play: “mimesis,” which refers to mimicry, and “synaptic,” referring to the word “synapse,” which Webster’s defines as “the place where a signal passes from one nerve cell to another.” In poetry there is naturally a sort of mimicry; our words present images, imitations, of the real thing, real events, even if only as documentation of something, someone, someplace remembered; many of these poems are windows, albeit fragmented, onto other worlds, and this presentation necessarily mimicry of the real thing (for these are only words, after all). An example, from the fifth poem:
[…] In 1983, Matt Martin jabbed a pencil into the flesh above my left knee, and you fled your country at night by plane instead of mountain. I had seen neither but felt the blood ooze down my leg as I peeped toward Ms. Ingram for God’s sake. In the middle of her clicking compact and lipstick measuring. My words coiled in the keel of my breastbone.
The “synaptic” reference in the book’s title seems more aptly applied to the technique of augmentation the author employs—the tendency of “leaping” from one idea to the next, which in the above excerpt, can be seen in the seemingly disparate images/ideas of a pencil being jabbed into the knee, and the sentence ending with the undefined “you” leaving the country by plane. Ideas, images leap from one idea/image to the next, like synapses firing (misfiring?). Another great example of this can be seen in the seventh poem:
Were we outside, in an old metal lawn chair sunk back with the sitter. All this impartial. I smelled rust.
The world catches fire with the grandfather.
Dickey’s work is most effective when rooted in strong imagery. The second poem begins, “Three monks in tangerine robes walk in rain the market’s length.” From another poem, “Pieces of tin peeled off barns and rolled neatly into cylinder ditch sculpture.”
The author’s nuances of craft, her use of augmentation and imagery, make for always interesting reading. Ultimately, Dickey is a poet’s poet. Mimesis, Synaptic is a unique work, one I would recommend for a pleasure read.