Poetry for Southern California
WOMAN IN METAPHOR
Anthology Edited by Maria Elena B. Mahler
Natural Healing House Press (NaturalHealingHousePress.com)
Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas
Woman in Metaphor is a book about interpretation. The interpretation of metaphors, of art, of poetry. Of women. It presents a series of paintings of women by Stephen Linsteadt, each accompanied by a poem inspired by the painting. The paintings range from realism to abstract, and so do the poems. Interpreting the poem becomes interpreting the painting becomes interpreting women. The layers of possible meaning multiply to infinity.
A few of the poems are rather straightforward descriptions of the paintings, but most expand from the image. Some imagine a story behind the painting, a story which presents deeper meanings the poet found. The exposed breasts in, and title of, “Amorous Games in a Flower Garden” inspire Russell Thornburn to explore hidden lust in his poem “One Week Last Summer.” “God is in the Waves,” by Susan Rogers, finds loss and death in a painting of a woman beside pounding surf.
But the majority use the painting as a launching pad to explore issues and ideas only peripherally related to the image. These are often the most interesting poems. A painting of a young girl in a nightgown dancing in front of a darkened window and an open door inspires “How I Learnt to Love the Night” by Katrina Naomi, a meditation on the attraction of the dark, in all its forms:
And now I dance to lure the dark;
he has no choice but follow.
I hold him, tight, move our bodies
so the moon can't slant her light between us.
Now, I close the door.
A naked body under water causes Meg Cox to question her body image in “Questions About My Body in a Pool”: “I am too old./ I am too young./ I am too thin./ I am too fat.”
The variety of interpretations is broad. This becomes obvious in a series of similar paintings, of a semi-obscured (by fog? Steam? A window?) body blotched in red, each of which inspires a very different poem. Genie Nakano, in “Kokoro,” is reminded of her absent mother; M.J. Whistler tells a tale of sleepwalking in “Nightwalk;” and Nancy Scott Campbell's “Luminous Hours” explores the relationship between artist and model. A similar painting cause Lois P. Jones to tackle the difficulties of communication in “Beyond Words.”
There is a recurring theme of mystery. The mystery often starts with the painting. Many are abstract to some degree, and many are titled “Unknown Woman.” This leaves the poet free to react openly to the image. And many of the poems are abstract themselves, leaving it to the reader to interpret their meanings.
It is a cliché to say that women are mysterious, but there is truth in it as well. We all harbor deep mysteries. Woman in Metaphor not only explores those mysteries, it revels in them. This is a book of mysteries, and none of them have neat solutions. The only answers are the ones the reader finds in the paintings, in the poems, in their own minds and experiences.