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Finishing Line Press, $19.99
reviewed by Cameron Scott
Susan Kay Anderson’s “Mezzanine” is one of the best collections of poems I’ve read this year. Maybe it is because I am partial to the West. As in the dusty, isolated, windy, vast open spaces tucked away from urban centers, trashed-out, stuck in its solitude but still striving to be something dashing instead of dashed. That West. Anderson opens the collection with the following couplet “Where is my West?/ How do I find it?”
For anyone who has grown up in, moved to, or thought about the West, “Mezzanine” attempts to make peace with a West that is often packaged and sold (the dreamer’s west, composed of blue-grass music, pint jars of beer, and escape) with the West we are given: boom and bust, land grabs, dispossession. “Mezzanine,” the plush red-velvety facade, and what appears upon a closer look: a laborer stuck with cleaning the spilled soda, gum, and partially chewed up chunks and discards left on the floor.
At its best, “Mezzanine” views the West through someone else’s eyes and imagination. Anderson presents her readers with a narrator who works “graveyard shift cleaning a building on the university campus… a place to look up, out, and back.” And with that opening, the next paragraph unfolds with a weight and purpose that projects its reader throughout the rest of the book: “The grey cement floors become a shiny cave, my dust mop is a bear’s fur that leaves the place polished with a sheen of Baerenschliffe, bear shimmer that beautifies and brings in more light. My mind is a butterfly.”
Much like the vistas of the West that change with perspective, so too, do Anderson’s poems. These poems come from as much of a bear-like, butterfly-flapping, and bee-ish imagination as they are rooted in the blue-collar world of the mezzanine. “I have myself to the moment,/ I heard what I wanted to hear.” In many of these poems, the narrator is working through that ultimate question: what is the West?
While we may never truly answer that question, by the end of this collection, the reader is left with a transformation: a narrator transformed. At its core, “Mezzanine” is a collection of poems about how sometimes what we need isn’t what we think we need. About what we find through imagination as we examine the past. Anderson writes “I thought this was the West/ I have escaped to somewhere else.” And lucky us, we get to escape with her.
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