Engraved by Anna George Meek
Tupelo Press, 2013; 34 pp
Reviewed by Karissa Morton
In “Vampire (True Vampire), Vampire (False Vampire),” Anna George Meek writes of how frightening it is “to identify the kinds of intensity, / [to] give them names, examine their shapes. This, however, is precisely what Meek does with Engraved—a tiny book that somehow manages to contain the intensity the poet feels toward nineteenth century Webster’s Dictionary engravings. Meek begins by imagining the fastidious engraver himself: “Sun & Planet Wheels, Buddha, / Bridge of Sighs, Passenger // Pigeon. These lines, a love letter to the dead. / Atlas bends his head.” In one fell swoop, Meek uses this man to both illuminate and complicate familiar concepts—from human teeth and hair to ducks, gargoyles, and toboggans. The speaker finds comfort in objects, how they assure us both of our resilience in the face of history (“A century later, / will you know me by my teeth?”) and of our ultimate interconnectedness:
“I am grinding the gristle
to clarity—such the instinct to carve.
Even the queen masticates.
The enamel, we call it the crown:
but then, the canines.”
She can’t be certain, however, that things are as recorded, wondering in “Ribcage” if the scapula was “formerly wings,” if once, planets may have “extended long tentacles, / claws on the end of each.” The ultimate question Meek deftly prompts the reader to consider throughout is one of the self, musing sadly over the fact that she can’t “crouch next to [herself] / to see what the differences” are. Though the engravings serve as the catalyst for the speaker’s realization that “The heavens are grotesque, or perhaps we are,” Meek gives the reader a clue toward how to read, reminding her that “yes, I do read / a small happiness clasped here.” The small happinesses Meek finds are fully apparent in this book, packed with quietly striking poems that, like her rendering of the Pediculina louse, “buzz with beauty.”