M, by Hannah Brooks-Motl
Swinging between examination and revelation, Hannah Brooks-Motl’s second collection of poems, M, holds a unique place in contemporary poetry, written almost as a document to chart the act of a writer reading. By transposing lines directly from the essays of Michel de Montaigne with her own, she creates a shimmering mirage that enables two distinct voices to blend with confidence and to question the steps we take to make sense of the world. That degree of ambition requires great care and thoroughness, the ability to see the past clearly in order to invent a skillfully considered and electric present.
“Blowing hot and cold with the same mouth”
The weapon of memory shattered the sun
Lift your eyes to it
“In the venerable tradition of mining, Hannah Brooks-Motl engages the poetics of excavation, taking Montaigne’s Essays as substrate. The ’M’ of the title may be far removed, but his (and her) spirit holds sway via ‘the burning light of the past’ in 'the little way of adjacency.’ Montaigne’s 'very limits of the possible’ lead onto a quiet exuberance in a poem, for example, where 'Invention got big / in the world / and bigger /… I made it // Wild with making’ (this, on imagination). If Brooks-Motl’s subtleties sometimes defy a quick 'get,’ they also persist in their nested reference, ’…like an infant wall of belief / Climbing with ivy at night.’ This is the 'great fond wager’ of a rich and mysterious work." Jean Day
”M may be for Montaigne, the sixteenth century essayist whose humanist imagination gives Brooks-Motl permission to look elsewhere, into the past for her poetic material, but M is also for 'mind,’ a place these poems love to dwell. As readers, we get to dwell there, too, trusting Brooks-Motl to sculpt with care and patience in order to offer a world that 'blooms and moves’ more generously. These ambitious and gorgeous poems are continuously surprising, pushing language into a secret landscape, or a secret history of the intellect. Every turn of phrase, every figure and gesture flickers open, making manifest the intimate and precipitous experience of reading into and with the past, alongside its fragments and tendencies." Juliana Leslie
Hannah Brooks-Motl is the author of two poetry collections, M (The Song Cave, 2015) and The New Years (Rescue Press, 2014), as well as a chapbook, The Montaigne Result (The Song Cave, 2013). She lives in Chicago and western Massachusetts.