The Red Queen Hypothesis–and Other Poems
by Ann E. Michael
59 Poems ~ 72 pages
Publisher: Highland Park Press
To Order: Amazon.com
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
I never thought a poetry collection’s title would drive me to check out a dictionary meaning for its title. That was before I encountered The Red Queen Hypothesis, by Ann E. Michael.
According to Webster’s:
“An hypothesis is an assumption, an idea that is proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to see if it might be true.”
My curiosity piqued, I continued my lexical studies pertaining to the term “Red Queen.” She is a fictional character in Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic, Through the Looking Glass. In Carroll’s work she is something of an antagonist. A similar character appears in another Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland. She is the “Queen of Hearts” in the latter.
Michael’s latest collection is edgy; chock full of poems that challenge everyday assumptions about life. This talented poet refuses to leave well enough alone. Her poems surprised me; made me scratch my head: Wonder what she’s getting at? What’s my takeaway with this one?
Michael has grouped her poems under three headings: I. Ways We Are Marked; II. Everything Turns; and III. The Noisy Mind. These provide a broad thematic outline. Adept at writing classical forms such as sestinas, villanelles, and sonnets; she also excels in free verse, varies her poems with interesting indentations, along with innovations unique to herself. For example, “Bookmark” is a shape poem you won't want to miss.
From Ways We Are Marked
In “Indian Summer,” the poet is marked by a serendipitous encounter with her daughter, a friend, and a toad:
At Furnace Dam under the honey
locust, my daughter dances off
without her shoes. The leaves are gold.
Her girlfriend’s found a toad; its gold
eyes stare. “It’s frightened. Let it go, honey,”
I say. The two girls brush me off.
They play until the charm’s worn off;
the patient toad, released, is gold-
bricking in late autumn’s honey-
sun. My honey child runs off: hot, gold.
The best poems derive from “earthy” things. Ordinary encounters transformed by a plethora of associations: honey, gold, autumn, toads, sun … the poem already in front of her, as if already written–she records life from the crucible of life.
From Everything Turns
I mentioned above that Michael’s divisions form a broad thematic outline of the whole. Beginning with “Ways We Are Marked,” poems within the other divisions recall their topical headings. The poet is not a slave to her divisions, yet the subtleties within them appealed to me aesthetically. “Shift” is a good example:
Year end, and there’s little to say.
The dog, the grass, the meadow; studies in tan and beige.
Light constant wind is, in its changing state, the same;
The usual transformations, nothing strange
and nothing static, although that’s how it feels–
stuck–even as minutes pass and slanting sun reveals
hawk, highlight new perspectives on the field
as a shift in cell structure affects a hive of bees
of the lungs of a loved one. The urge to change, the urge
to stem that change, pulls physical. Not a war of words.
Such tension keeps life going. Learn
from the quiet poof of tree and leaf. Everything turns.
Michael is sensitive to analogies between the natural world and human experience. When she ends the poem with “Everything turns,” I drew a mental bridge to what I know and feel inside.
From The Noisy Mind
In a poem entitled “The Well-Dressed Man With A Beard,” poet Wallace Stevens asserts, “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.” Throughout section III, I get the sense that Michael is exploring that very question. I especially like “Division,” as an example:
Halfway to anywhere’s nowhere
say well-meaning people, and it’s true
if the bucket is only half-
way down the well shaft.
Do anything by halves, and you
will end up like Zeno, who
was always 50%
from getting to the end.
Yet–the window opened half-
way lets in fresh drafts
while blunting the chill wind.
Halves can ballast over-
reaching. If only
we could half-sin.
Reviewer's note: Zeno was a Greek philosopher known for the many paradoxes he in-troduced into philosophical thought.
Michael senses the inner-dichotomies of life. She does not preach. Rather, she offers her hand as a kindred spirit on the path of life. I leave it to the reader to apply Ann Michael’s Red Queen Hypothesis to life. When I applied it to mine … I discovered that she knows exactly where I live!