AN EYE by Angela Consolo Mankiewicz is the third book of poetry by this very fine writer whose work appears throughout the small press. Her previous two chaps were CANCER POEMS from UB Press, and WIRED from Aquarius West.
Mankiewicz walks the gracious line between pure narrative poetry and image poetry; this lends a transcendent aspect to her work. Here is excerpt from her poem “The Cell” which illustrates this quality, “I found him in his cell / not as in jail, as in catacombs. // He smiled but did not look well, / frail, in a thin, pinstripe suit. // He stepped down, almost fell / but righted himself, winking.” And later in the same poem, “He stopped, climbed / onto the sun and swooned // while flames brushed his lips red / and painted his face // like a middle-aged whore, overfed / and grinning. I carried him // back to his cell, into his bed, / where I watched the dust // fill his nostrils and blot / his spotted cheeks.” I asked her about the tone of the poems in AN EYE, many of which I felt had a personal journal aspect to them, “Yes, I’d characterize these poems as both narrative and image-driven. I don’t see or hear the “journal aspect” – which certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t there! I learned early on that I’m more an explicator than a good story-teller – perhaps that’s how that combination developed in my work.”
These poems are reflections on motherhood, love, age, memory, regret, and time. A few poems in this collection that didn’t seem to fit this flow – “The Lady Livia” and “The Cell” in particular seemed to be poems for another collection. I asked Mankiewicz to explain this thematic discontinuity. “Yes, your perceptions are accurate, although I would include political in the mix. “The Lady Livia” and “The Cell” also fall into the same areas you note – “The Lady Livia” began as a piece about the historical figure and dovetailed into a reflections on my mother. “The Cell” began with a dream of my father and blended into a memory of Rome. When I considered groupings, I didn’t consciously have a theme in mind. I saw AN EYE and “Young Girls” as bookends, “Sleeping with Nietzsche” through “Armchairs” as introspectives. The other three, with “Caiti”, as externals – assuming that makes any sense”
I asked her how Pecan Grove Press came to publish this collection. “Pecan Press published a little magazine called “Chili Verde Review” which printed a few of my poems over the years. Its publisher/editor, H. Palmer Hall also ran a chapbook contest, judged by someone else. I would submit, and though Palmer was very encouraging, I never made it. The press and magazine seemed to disappear for a while, and then I saw a review in Small Press Review of one of Palmer’s books. I wrote to him, and he invited me to submit a manuscript which became AN EYE.”
Many of these poems gain their power from the personal, and from the skill and willingness of Mankiewicz to disclose. Here are three endings to poems in the collection that illustrate this. From “The Girl Who Loved Armchairs”: “I’m told, love will outlast passion’s appetite – / then may it rage as it slips into that ungentle night.” From “Dinner Party”: “She turned off the sound, let herself drift / on the tremble of purring on her lips, / steady, with an extra beat // here and there, to remind her of / who she is.” And finally from “After All These Years”: “Later, we will meet, face-to-face and embrace like paper dolls. / We’ll bob our heads and flap happy little arms in the wind. / We’ll rush home to draw big black remainders to call on / our calendars / for old times’ sake.” Mankiewicz’s ability to write so personally is her great strength.
I asked Mankiewicz about her writing process, “Basically, it’s a matter of shot gunning everything a particular thought or series of thoughts brings into my head and setting that down on paper/screen. Then, I start discarding, inserting, re-inserting, read a little, put on Callas if I want to indulge myself, Beethoven if I need to escape. I may sweep the kitchen floor or play at preparing to wash the car. I do put poems aside into “In-Process” folders if I don’t like what’s happening or not happening and I will go back to a piece, but not that often. Sometimes I revise a lot over many weeks, sometimes hardly at all – it depends on the piece of course. Sometimes I force a completion because I can’t deal with the piece anymore – and because I don’t know if I ever feel a poem is “done.” Occasionally, a poem comes in a sitting. Rarely is it a really good piece, but it can be satisfactory, and if so, I’ll keep it.”
AN EYE is a strong and varied outing for a poet who does not blink in the face of emotional tension and confusion. Mankiewicz stands firm and reports what she sees through an eye that is painter, poet and philosopher.
About the author:
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and sixty print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing, and most recently read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org) and Pass Port Journal. He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most recently he has been appointed to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literarti.net/Ries/.