by Scott Owens
Main Street Rag
Not surprisingly, given its title, Mimi Herman’s debut collection of poems, Logophilia, is a book for all those who love words, who hold such reverence for and have such familiarity with words that they like nothing better than to take them out at every opportunity and do what every logophiliac most loves to do: play with them, shamelessly, publicly, joyfully.
Thus, one of the greatest joys the reader discovers in Logophilia is a sense of playfulness, a sense of fun, a sense of humor. Only in a book characterized by such a strong sense of humor could the reader expect to find such offbeat and surprising similes as “the last piece of chocolate cake, as alluring / as a showgirl leaning against the backstage door / asking if you can give her a lift” (from “The Visualizing Mind Has No Word for No”). Or a love poem in which the speaker proclaims to her lover, “You fill me up like a Pop-Tart fills the toaster,” or “You’re a high like exercise (if exercise behaved as advertised), / like hitting butter halfway down the popcorn bucket” (from “Fill Her Up”).
If these unusual similes don’t make it clear that this book is the playground of a word-lover, then the title poem, spells it out:
I love the way words mate in my mouth,
butter and fingers, even and song,
or play in the park,
the way jump and rope join
and go skipping down the street.
Another of the qualities greatly to be admired in Logophilia is its seamless organicism. I admit to liking best those books of poems that seem of a single piece, whether that piece is narrative, thematic, or stylistic. When I encounter such a book, I find I often want to speak of it in one ridiculously long sentence, as if all the poems were really one, making statements and providing examples that build ultimately a single impression, moment, or idea. I have, of course, in the interest of simplicity and perhaps a sense of humility consistently resisted the urge to create such a one-sentence review. But, now, Herman’s own audacity with language makes me think it might just this once be appropriate. So, here goes.
Ultimately, what the reader discovers in reading Logophilia is that if Herman is a valid example, then any lover of words is also likely to be a lover of all that matters: life, love, beauty and unbeauty (as in “Role Models” — “How can I not love the zaftig and stout, / the what it’s all about ladies / who are twice my size and attitude / and move as if to say / Who can resist / my kick and luscious sway?”); flaws and challenges (as in “God Is Not a Short-Order Cook” — “You can’t ask for one marriage, over easy, / . . . / can’t wave the waitress to your booth / and demand the healthy kid special, extra syrup. // . . . God won’t whip up / an end to war while you wait”); fairy tales (as in “The Fairy Tale Emotion Series”), mythology (as in “Miriam” and “Cassandra”), history (as in “Eleanor”), and cartoons (as in “Warner Brothers Physics”); storms (as in “The Storm”); sublimity and mystery (as in “Do Not Disturb” — “Do Not Disturb // the willow oak leaves tangled in a web / outside your living room window // . . . / a dam a six-year-old has made of sticks / . . . / a dying insect, / a man, crying”); and most importantly, knowledge and the unknown, as in “On the Importance of Explanatory Text” —
Even in museums, I experience vertigo
if I stare straight at a painting
without first grounding myself in the title
. . . . . . . . . .
I have requested that you take a few minutes from your day
to compose a series of labels I can use
to keep from being overwhelmed with dizziness
at the sight of you in repose
or standing by the stove stirring eggs
. . . . . . . . . .
or suddenly in a crowd
where I hadn’t expected you to be.
I need a label . . .
to be prepared
should I survive you
. . . . . . . . . .
to place above your headstone.
Something simple and complete
that will help me understand,
that will keep the vertigo at bay
so I won’t fall off the earth
you’re buried in.
That about says it. Read Logophilia for something different, for a love of words, language, logic, meaning, life, and above all, fun.