Is That What Awake Is?
A Review of Disenchanted and Disgruntled
by Michelle Hartman
Michelle Hartman’s debut poetry collection from Lamar University Press (2013) revels in frolic. She flaunts rapier wit and unique voice, but beware. Just as you catch a joke to chuckle with her, she flings you into a chasm so deep, you find how dark darkness can be. Casually turning the page, readers enter the kingdom of deception: abuse by parents and lovers, the father-son conundrum, terrors among innocents, and girls who wish their princes would turn back into metaphorical frogs, because once out of the dream the princes aren’t fun any more.
Hartman delights as storyteller, though she claims it’s the (“. . . former Texas Roping Beauty Queen’s version of events.” While entertaining readers with a subversive, sometimes ribald view
of plots we previously thought familiar, she also considers the erotic and even violent nature of feasts (passions) we had longed for. Each course on the menu becomes less trustworthy, more dangerous. At first we laugh; in the next moment, we worry about
So much eating . . . .
poisoned apples, children baked
in witches’ ovens, giants eating
men and wolves eating grandmothers
girls with hairballs in their cleavage
The popularity of myths and fairy tales is cyclical. In the 1980-1995 period, many well-intentioned parents and educators decided to omit such genres from story time because they might cause nightmares. Children themselves would scoff at such wimpy fear-mongering on the part of their elders, for the young have long adored gory stuff with rolling heads, gleefully following the adventures of fur-covered monsters. Cautionary tales taught behavioral norms (don’t play with matches), insights to social interaction (be kind to others), and provided generous doses of jolly good fun. Fables, myths, and fairy stories are mirrored in cultures far removed from each other by distance and centuries, a rich resource for artists, scholars, and writers. Hartman explores the best (philosophical) and worst (auguries of familial horror) of fabulous elements, but perhaps her greatest skill lies in exploiting subtext and symbols relevant to experiential and psychological transformation. Here is a poet with the courage to chop away at ice blocks of personality so that something true can emerge at awakening, whether from dream or nightmare.
Nor is she afraid to tackle hermeneutics. In “Jesus, interrupted,” she stalks one of the Big Questions:
what if you wanted to travel
but your people need you
to die . . . /what if you were not
the one foretold, simply
the one available
Sorting out a life can be pleasurable, if playing with others, as all poets do with their readers; but essentially, the Self is a kingdom where one travels alone. “That’s how life is,” Hartman reminds. At some time, everyone becomes an Other, carrying “our own packages.” As for the rest,
. . . they have gone on with their lives
and you are too far ahead
Reviewed by Sandra Soli.
Sandra holds an honors M.A. from The University of Central Oklahoma. Former teaching artist and poetry columnist, she received an Oklahoma Book Award in 2008 for her second chapbook; her first was a finalist for that honor. Other prizes include LSU’s Eyster Poetry Prize and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Sandy has published articles, flash fiction, and photography in addition to her poetry, which has appeared in such journals as Southern Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Ruminate, Parody, The Oklahoma Review, CyberSoleil, Sugar Mule, Ellipsis, Oklahoma Today, and War, Literature, and the Arts; and anthologized most recently in Shifting Balance Sheets: Immigration and Cultural Attachment and Broken Circles, benefiting food pantries. Her article on prose poems appeared in the 2009 edition of Poet’s Market. War and the outsider experience are recurring themes in her work.