Three of Harryette Mullen’s books of poetry, originally published by very small independent presses, have been gathered into this single volume by Greywolf Press and republished in 2006.
I rarely read a book of poetry straight through, but these poems, full of word play and as the publisher says “…the language of fashion and femininity, advertising and the supermarket, the blues and traditional lyric poetry” are like snack food. Can’t eat just one. But, hey, these poems are good for you.
The first two books are in the form of prose poems, Trimmings responding to Gertrude Stein’s Objects and S*PeRM**K*T to Stein’s Food, which are two of the three sections of Tender Buttons. Mullen’s book, Muse & Drudge, is comprised of eighty poems, each untitled and four quatrains (4 x 4). Some stanzas rhyme, some do not, all are ear candy. I found myself reading each poem multiple times, but then wanting to press on to find out/listen to what might be on the next page. The language is quite condensed.
This is one of my favorite stanzas (the first stanza of the poem on Page 158) in Muse & Drudge:
“O rose so drowsy in
my flower bed your pink
pajamas zig-zag into
fluent dreams of living ink”
The rose can be a fraught object/subject in modern poetry, the Romantics having written it ragged. Gertrude Stein wrote in her 1913 poem Sacred Emily: “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” And here we have Mullen’s take on the rose.