Mistake: a series of ritual actions, expiations, griefs, Orphics, overprints sieving, sowing
by Meredith Stricker
To better understand this collection of poems, I read Mistake twice. After the second time, I got a better handle on it, and my respect for what Meredith Stricker has accomplished grew, but I preface this review by saying that if you are looking for a good, critical eye for this book, I won't be the most thorough. My poetry vocabulary is limited, but I will do my best to talk about this particular reading experience.
And it is an experience.
Divided into seven sections, the poems are inspired by Freudian slips, mislaid type, Darwin's "tangled bank" metaphor, Orphic Hymns, and the Zen forgiveness ceremony of ryaku fusatsu — which pays "attention to accidents, overprints, flaws, the discarded, the unwanted, the cast-off." Mistake is a swirling examination of loss, choice, and inevitability. The words often overlap or have otherwise unusual spacing, and one has to be very present in order to read it. There's no drifting off and thinking of other things here, otherwise the meaning is lost without beginning again. Though it's not a very long book, nor does it take a lot of time to read, it is still not "easy."
Sometimes a soul does not know it is a book when living, whose pages can never be completed in a final, perfect, finished sense, but are continually translating themselves just as leaves fall and translate the forest, chaparral, grassland in succession and no street adheres to its past self, just as leaves fall and leaves love us and traffic is humanity surging out of the boundaries of its skin
There are allusions to the recent Japanese tsunami and irradiated damage left from a nuclear power plant, though this is not exactly what I would call an environment-themed book (even if everything is an environment of some sort). I loved lines like, "if death is the stain we cannot live / without," and "I will not be smoothed out / fur, roughened," even if sometimes I felt like I was only grasping 3/4ths of what I read.
In the very last section, "There was a wilderness," it ends with my favorite part of the entire book:
I'd recognize you anywhere across crowded
the ink not yet dry on your fingers
both of us now
belong completely to our
distance, taste of salt
on our lips
Without scanning pages, I cannot do justice to the layout of the pages, the way text often repeats or is crossed out. It very much mimics the chaos of a noisy brain attempting to process some major life event. Mistake is a volume I will likely reread once more, as now I feel compelled to better understand. Even flipping through for the purpose of this review, after my two full-reads, I already notice more about what is happening on the page. I wouldn't say I loved Mistake, but I liked the challenge, and anything that makes me want to revisit it is probably a good thing. Students of poetry, I would certainly recommend doing the same.
Full Disclosure: Caketrain Press sent me this book at my request. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.