23 January 2012

The Mechanics of Rescue by Amy Miller

The Mechanics of the Rescue
Poems by Amy Miller
Nine Bean-Rows Press, 2007

Review by Laurie Rosenblatt

"Why play at all?" is the question Amy Miller asks in the first line of her poem, "Short Game Rules". Most poems in this chapbook start with a tantalizing hook. Here are some other opening lines:

I love the way men die/on Big Valley
Big Valley")

She calls it Timmy, for alliteration
("Mom Names the Tumor")

I can't stop reading any poem beginning with a line like that. But this chapbook is not all technically skilled entertainment and quirky humor. The poems in The Mechanics of Rescue may take off from interesting directions but lead the reader along darker paths. For instance, the first stanza from "Cheerios,"

She wants a heart attack:
swift, sure goodbye
on the living room floor,
or maybe in the car
alone. She thought about it
those nights in the still,
clean halls of Vista gardens,
spooning soup into the woman's
hungry-fish mouth.  The woman:
That's what she came
to call her, like faeries
took her mother, left a skin,
a stranger in her clothes.

A close look at "Cheerios," will show how many of Miller's poems work. As we've seen "Cheerios" opens with the wish for a quick death, an end before any radical stripping away of one's place in the world imposed by, say, dementia. The poem's title layers the innocence of childhood, the cheery British goodbye, and the sunny tone of a 1950's movie heroine facing disaster—devastating mix. The second stanza gives us the speaker's thoughts on how to court the quick death by turning away from healthy living while her husband cheerfully, optimistically, trustingly looks forward to a benign future and makes her a breakfast to guarantee long life. As with all good poems, this trot doesn't do justice.

The Mechanics of Rescue gives us many poems like "Cheerios." I've read the chapbook again and again. But sometimes Miller doesn't trust herself as much as the reader trusts her. For instance in "Picking Blackberries" she divides the poem into eight sections complete with titles. This structure deflects the power of the whole.  Without division, a single poem unfolds and the small discontinuities add to the reader's connection and identification with the intimate voice speaking about the tragedies, errors, missteps, and beauty of life in quiet, arresting images. Ignore the distracting breaks. It's a gorgeous, moving poem. That's the worst I say about this collection. A trivial complaint.

Since publication of The Mechanics of the Rescue in 2007, Amy Miller has written Tea Before Questions (2010) and Beautiful/Brutal (2009) as well as five other chapbooks. I look forward to chasing them down.