Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sea Wind on the White Pillow

New From Axes Mundi Press

a poems collection by

as reviewed by Karen Schoemer:

From afar, poets can seem a rarified breed, locating transcendance in an overturned leaf and the secrets of humanity in a riverbed’s glistening pebble, where the rest of us see, well, a leaf and a pebble. But in Irene Mitchell’s work, the common world and its uncommon dimensions both come beautifully into focus. The poems in her first collection, Sea Wind on the White Pillow, spring from small details: a runner on her daily route stops beneath a blue bridge; a couple pushes off downstream in a canoe; a swimmer ignores a lifeguard’s whistle and plunges with a “mighty trudgen crawl” into open waters. But from these minor moments, magnificent meanings unspool. The runner’s past looms up, uninvited; the couple’s river journey spans marital decades, taking them from adventurousness to complacency; the swimmer finds herself overpowered by an undertow, reeled back toward shore by the tide’s invincible pull and forced to confront her own limitations. Mitchell’s language is eloquent and erudite, yet unexpectedly playful. “Don’t get colloquial with me, kiddo!” barks a passenger on a cruise ship when a member of the wait staff becomes overly friendly. Her cadences, though steeped in classicists from Homer to Donne to Eliot, maintain a conversational freshness. In “Gazing with Galileo,” the collection’s masterwork, Mitchell suggests that all of us, poets and nonpoets alike, have the capacity to be children of greatness, “daughters/so mindful/of the fluid kick that connects us to the divine.” We can all taste and touch the physical world; Mitchell’s revelation is that the spiritual and metaphysical worlds lurk just beyond it, and we can encounter them as well if we allow ourselves the opportunity.

Karen Schoemer