Review: Pools of June by Mary Meriam
Mary Meriam’s Pools of June is a book that helps to reshape our concept of mythology so that it serves the people of today. I have always felt that mythology is necessary, but that often is damaging especially when it demonizes people and codifies hatred. Think about the treatment of women in our understanding of witches. Think about how people with disabilities are often equated with evil. Meriam’s work recreates mythology as a way to help us see the world through inclusive eyes and shows moves away from fear of wild things and wild places and fear of a feminine sexuality by using familiar poetic constructions to say new things.
Rather than showing the natural world as a force that people must overcome and tame, Meriam’s work corrects our understanding of it by showing how when we are in sync with it and properly understand it, we are a part of the natural world and that it is home. She describes this relationship in her villanelle “Trees”:
I love this screen of oak and maple trees
hiding me from the boaters on the lake.
I love the fattened leaves in the summer breeze
singing the forest full of symphonies.
When I have any love-life left to make,
I love this screen of oaks and maple trees.
In the first two stanzas, the narrator develops ideas that come back again and again. She is in the woods, which nourish her emotional life and protect her from the real enemy, people. The trees are not there to harm her; they protect her. While these concepts come back often, so do the oppositional idea, that technology meant to distract us from our natural relationship harms us as in two of the stanzas of “Farewell, Farcia”:
Don’t try my patience, gentle telephone.
Go split your wires, crack your hand-set bone,
go digital, go slow, go beat a drum,
go ring yourself to death. I will not come.
I’ll hear instead the doves cry overhead.
So still I’ll stay, she’ll surely think I’m dead
to love; but no, I hear the loving doves
that fit together like two hands in gloves.
Nature and love always trump distraction in her work.
And Meriam always celebrates love, showing that the feminine sexuality, far from being a corrupting force in myth, is a spur to new ideas and new creativity; it is in fact necessary, natural, and ennobling. In “Carol and I were lovers,” she demonstrates how a sexual relationship opened her to new ideas and experiences:
Then Carol introduced me to Elizabeth
Bishop, her handshake cool and tiny, not like Carol’s
Unlike my lover’s hot and eager hands, at least
Briefly, until Camille distracted me from Carol.
Sexuality done lovingly always brings new connections, new ideas, new beauty to her narrators’ lives. When it is not denied, it is a way to become awake and alive to the world. We might assume also, that when it is denied, the opposite will occur. Her use of rhythm, sound devices, and traditional poetic forms also disarms the ideas of previous mythologies. There is joy in the sound of her poetry as she uses strong meter, alliteration, and rhyme in sonnets, villanelles, ghazals and other forms.
Meriam is doing profoundly important work here. So much of culture is meant to indoctrinate homophobia and misogyny. This starts with mythology. She is disassembling hatred and doing so in a powerful way. Her work should be read and reread until it overcomes the stories we have told each other previously that have helped to reinforce hatred.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Brantingham is Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park’s first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has ten books of poetry and fiction including The L.A. Fiction Anthology (Red Hen Press) and A Sublime and Tragic Dance (Cholla Needles Press). He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College. (Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher.)