A Gaze Afire “Steady, My Gaze” by Marie-Elizabeth Mali

By Herald de Paris Contributor's Bureau on October 4, 2011

By Alice Anderson
Literary Editor

SACRAMENTO (Herald de Paris) – In Marie-Elizabeth Mali’s stunning debut collection of poetry, “Steady My Gaze,” (Tebot Bach, 2011) poetry itself is made anew in the searing crucible of the poet’s spirited imagination and wise insight. Poet Marie Howe declared the collection a “metaphysical page-turner,” and that is exactly what the reader experiences. Here is poem after poem that leaves the reader wanting more. It’s a rare collection that I sit down and read in one fell swoop. I read “Steady, My Gaze” in one sitting, then turned to the beginning and read it again. Publisher Tebot Back is responsible for some of the most exquisite collections in the market, and this collection is yet singing arias of the practical and playing spoons on the profound another fine addition to American Letters.

Mali marries the sacred and the sensual in poems that span the landscape of her childhood in American, Sweden, and Venezuela, to life at the table with the love of her life. Inside this collection are poems of meditation and spiritual retreat as well as poems of the every day (the 6 train, a hotel restaurant, the marriage bed.) What makes the poems so striking is that they do something rarely seen – they ask questions rather than proposing answers, they open to the universe instead of distilling the sacred into tidy proclamations. It is a tricky sort of talent to write poems that appear so effortless, yet are filled with such richness. Mali’s poems do what all great poems do – make the reader think in a new way, make the reader feel language in the body. At readings, this kind of work inspires an audible sigh, a sort of collective, amazed, “Ahhh” from the audience. Often this is a result of a very good poem coupled with a very good reader. Mali writes poems that (even when read quietly and alone) inspire that familiar, satisfied sigh. At the end of each, the reader thinks, “Yes.”

Marie-Elizabeth Mali writes with striking, inventive language. In her poems, lighting “antlers” to the sky, the tide “nibbles” a beach-goer, and toilets flush “like thunderclaps.” These are poems that mirror a well-lived life – self-reflective, gracious, and laced with humor. In one of several unabashed love poems the poet announces: “He is not the man/ who talks over me in public. Okay, sometimes/ he is the man who talks over me in public.” In another, when the husband suggests that a sense of smell is less-than-essential, the poet declares: “I keep my mouth shut, look/ intrigued.” We recognize ourselves, our own relationships, in these poems: at once passionate, slightly ridiculous, silly, brutal, lovely.

“Steady, My Gaze” is filled with fine poems – singing arias of the practical and playing spoons on the profound. Invited into the heart unflinchingly, readers will find satisfaction in these dazzling poems. In the sizzling poem, “Strike Anywhere,” the poet explains what she means by love in declaring, “I mean I hand you a shotgun/ and toss my clay pigeon heart in the air.” The resulting clay bits set the sky of these poems ablaze with bliss.

No comments yet.

Leave a comment