Poetry Review: Mélange Block by Denise Low

Published by Red Mountain Press, the new poetry book Mélange Block introduced me to the work of poet Denise Low, whose 20 books of award-winning poems and essays have already seen print. The review copy I received also let me know she’s been honored as Poet Laureate for the state of Kansas where she began the creative writing program at Haskell Indian Nations University – impressive!

But what about the poems? Would they stand up to the expectations set by the back jacket blurbs? The first poem “Minerals” immediately answered that question in sparse words thick with mystery and images.

Women count winter bones
trapped in forests of fossil ferns,
choose some to breath again.

That poem sets the tone and pace with occasional variations and a hint of story. In “Magma: Springerville Volcanic Field,” for example, we see:

Brother’s walkingstick grinds grit ash
old film Journey to the Center of the Earth
rerun dream halfway along a twilight trek
as cones cross miles a dead museum of lava.
Prophecy of fire says he is halfway home.

The compression of story into cryptic lines gives the light brushstrokes found in haiku but with a sense of movement – even in the making of “Sedimentation: Alligator Junipers” where we find “agate-ring years/ seared drought forged/ creased wrinkled torsos.” So compressed, and yet you can sense the passage of time as story.

That movement of time, however, might be in a flash as shown in “Parallax” where we see:

Eye of the backyard fox
trapped on night film
occipital orb flashes white
void encircled by night.

Or time might freeze in the sound of a “Volcanic Core” where the “Throat of a volcano stands/ frozen in a final bass note.”

Revealing a highly observant eye and sensitive ear, this mélange (mixture of styles, shapes, colors, or rock matrix) deals honestly with a landscape of subjects – from growing old to a family freezing one bitter winter to Dega “rasping/ charcoal against grained paper.” Their clarity and compression encompass us all.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poetry book reviewer and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press and book of Bible-based poems Outside Eden published by Kelsay Books.

Mélange Block, paperback

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