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New Book News: Now We Will Speak in Flowers by Micki Blenkush

Now We Will Speak in Flowers by Micki Blenkush. San Francisco: Blue Light Press, 2020. Paperback, 112 pages, $15.95. Available on Amazon HERE.

This month, I’ve kept returning to that which is quiet.

Quiet days are when stories and poems may speak the loudest. I’ve caught up on our stack of New Yorker issues, am working my way through recent issues of the New York Review of Books. I finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Some afternoons, I pick up one of the many poetry books scattered around my house and read a few pages. Most recently, the book I picked up was Now We Will Speak in Flowers by Minnesota poet Micki Blenkush.

I first became aware of Blenkush’s work when Constance Brewer and I were reading poems for our very first issue of Gyroscope Review. Blenkush sent us the poem from which her new book takes its title and we happily accepted it. We published other pieces of hers through the years; I was always happy to see her name among the submissions. I introduced myself to Blenkush one warm night in 2018 after hearing her read at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where she participated in the Loft’s Mentor Series program as a poetry fellow. Her work continued to appear in Gyroscope Review’s submissions and I grew to expect wonderful poems from her.

So, when a copy of Now We Will Speak in Flowers appeared in my snail mailbox this summer, I was delighted. The timing was perfect.

The very first poem in the book, Painted Cave, opens with lines I adore:

All week I’ve been crawling
the dirt floor of memory

What a spot-on way to describe memory. I thought of the way we dig around in our memories as we try to unearth something that either explains things or we can hold on to. Isn’t that what a poet’s job really is? To crawl around on that dirt floor, wipe the grime off, offer up an image that we can see clearly as if for the first time? This is what we can do when we quiet everything down, take our time, look beneath everything else.

Blenkush doesn’t disappoint. With 61 poems divided into four sections, she follows through on what she offers up in that first poem, crawling around to piece together shards of a life story. Her poems explore an assortment of then and now memories. She examines what built her own foundations, what shook those foundations, and how she has shored herself up: childhood family and friends, time in a psychiatric ward, marriage, parenthood, and love above all.

As I read these poems, I kept guessing which line or phrase was the one that sparked each piece, tried to determine how the poet began then evolved to the final form, the final line. I fully realized that was my approach when I got to Cutting Board on page 45. Did Blenkush start with the cutting board itself or with her own scars? Stanzas 4 and 5 illustrate this idea:

A galaxy of marks made in distracted thoughts
of what comes next or someone running late.
Deeper scars take weeks or months.
A surface fine to mar. Swept away
in faint shreds. Only the edge
retains a honeyed shine.

This, too, is what a poet does: find the metaphor that an object offers, work it around until it’s as sharp as it can be. In this poem, the reader is invited to consider how scarred we all are, in the end, as we weather the consequences of everything we’ve ever chosen. And I was doing what an old editor does: taking these poems apart to see where they began.

After Cutting Board, I decided to step back from deconstructing these poems. It was time to just enjoy them, see where Blenkush wanted me to go.

Blenkush’s poems don’t just muck about in memory. They offer plenty for right this moment. A Cargo of Perspective, page 48, seems particularly well-suited to this point in our history with these two lines:

There are forces taking sides
and we’re missing the little things.

Those little things are what make these poems shine. There are so many small wonders right in front of us every day: birds that peck at the window, a daughter riding away on her bike, spaces that once held laughter, or flowers that remind us how to live. That is where I’d like to leave you, with the small wonder of tulips from Witness, page 103:

Just before their petals stumble loose
around each barren stem, they open
to their fire-eater fullest - -
tilting back, looking up.

May you find some time to tilt back, look up. Now We Will Speak in Flowers is a fine place to start.

#newbooknews #MickiBlenkush #poetryreview #summerreading

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