June Mitchell’s collection of poems, and i think to myself, brims with wisdom, imagination, and experience. It is much more than a collection of poems. It is the product of a lifetime as a humanitarian, much of which was spent in the pursuit of social activism and social justice. It is also the expression of a lifelong passion for literature and poetry, a pastime that bears much fruit, here. Mitchell’s collection must not only be read, but celebrated, for its depths and truths testify to the fullness of a woman’s life, its contents ringing out to the ear with mirth, joy, despair, outrage, and wonder.
Written later in life, one of many discoveries in this collection is how it is positioned towards the providential. It is all the more remarkable for being a natural inclination in its speakers, for from this inclination, much wisdom appears. In “déjà vu”, the speaker contemplates the origin of the desire for a better world. In “resolution”, there is an embrace of god in nature, and with it a denial of the artificial. The two go hand-in-hand, and such a choice gives renewed freedom and joy to the speaker, which is expressed in the poem’s jaunty rhythm and rhyme scheme. In the poem, “recycled”, the speaker reflects on a passage from Micah 4. The contemporary reading changes little of the passage, but invigorates it, makes it more compelling, more memorable. It offers perspective and, as so much of this collection does, a starting point for a better world. In “god comes to call”, the speaker finds in the Creator a sense of outrage and disappointment with the world that reflects her own. God, in the speaker’s heart, is earthly and accessible, given to human feeling, and prone to regret the indirect consequences of creation. In the poem, “me an’ god”, the speaker offers insight into her own relationship with the Creator. It is “such an easy friendship,/once i understood i couldn’t/fool him like i fool myself”. An enduring and enriching faith grounds this collection, and it is never labored, never cloying, but always refreshing and honest.
It is in poems that deal with that gray matter, life, in which the collection succeeds in the crucible of autobiography. In “separation”, the speaker recollects the events following her separation from her husband. Rhyming couplets provide the mould in which the speaker’s response takes form. The reader sees the humanity in the speaker, in her anguish, her hurt. The collection also embraces moments of the portentous, and they gleam with surprise and insight. In “getting the hang of it”, the speaker recollects her grandmother’s hair. The poem is fresh and meaningful, imbued with a sense of the momentous. These and other poems, including those offering insight into Hurricane Katrina and reflections on Archbishop Romero, set the collection apart from the many other autobiographical works.
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