Goodmorning Menagerie, 2020
In a ringing, Melanie Noel takes readers on a delightfully wonderlandish journey through forests and paths and meadows. Reading the poems in this chapbook, readers find ourselves enticed and encircled by trees, ghosts, leaves, animals, and insects; we watch as “ants intravenously paced the pines” and “pines intravenously paced the sky”. The strange and natural world as presented in a ringing is full of doubling, transformative movement. “Today / the cicadas are chainmail hammocks swinging in the chainmail day” and a “dying leaf becomes // a yellow petal.” We experience “A mineral silence then a lemon silence.”
The world of a ringing is encompassing and inescapable. “A leaf follows me,” Noel writes, “Don’t follow me leaf, I say, / I have vertigo but it trots after me like a disobedient dog.” As we take in the sensory details Noel plies us with, we find ourselves also a part of her anthropomorphized and attentive universe. Happily, Noel’s world is more curious than dangerous, and readers are guided through the narrator’s perspective: “I seduced the mosquitoes and saw things I hadn’t seen. // They let me try to be like them, the trees.” The narrator continually asserts agency through phrases like “I seduced,” “I trespassed,” “I saw,” “I complain,” “I remember,” “I love,” or “I ask.” Our guide rarely subverts the self to the world; when “I” is not directing lyric action, she illustrates the often-surreal movements of flora or fauna surrounding the narrator’s body: “The horse chestnut and I are flocked with flies,” Noel writes; “geraniums the color of commercial valentines spit me out.”
Noel’s chapbook is divided into two sections, beginning with the longer “Outer Ray” and ending with “Inner Ray.” “Outer Ray” explores the fantasy-woodland through themes of walking, being in nature, and seeking and exploring. “Inner Ray” is more concerned with the interior of the self. Generally, “Inner Ray” offers “damp introspection” more than worldly observation. Throughout a ringing, poems may be formed in couplets or tercets, but most often they range over the page in multi-spaced and often end-stopped lines. Sometimes the poems are titled, but not always. Ends of poems or units of longer poems are frequently marked with an ant-shaped vertical ornament. It can be a little difficult for readers to track beginnings and endings, and ultimately it makes more comforting sense to consider the chapbook in its entirety as a unit, rather than individual poems or sections.
The poems throughout a ringing invite readers to listen for sounds and resonances, and to seek echoes that are visual and spatial, as well as sonic. As we move through Noel’s enchanting “lampshop of blossoms” in a sort of dreamlike travelogue, we feel “the woman’s eye grab the walnut, and then as her eye had, her hand.” We trace the trees and the grasses to find, along with the narrator, that “The mountains were not the mountains or were not the mountains only.” Overall, Noel’s chapbook is lovely and weird in all the best ways. a ringing encourages readers to notice relationships between self and space and world, it provokes us to make observations that are keener and livelier, and it requests that we participate more actively in our surroundings. We may enter the forest, but when we do we must enter it wholly. Noel reminds us, “The forest says, don’t make too much of it but I do.”
Genevieve Kaplan is the author of (aviary) (Veliz Books, 2020), In the ice house (Red Hen, 2011), and three chapbooks. She lives in southern California where she edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose. Find her online at https://genevievekaplan.com/ .