The Monarchs | Melanie Noel
The Monarchs is a conversation. Pastoral field notes picnic with the voiceovers and subtitles of films and other forms to transform “the wet paper of the sky” into a techno-naturescape. Visual and aural, these textual sculptures transport readers from monarch groves to Mars. Any earthling’s ear reenters the world anew after this read. Noel pollinates primary sources to produce a hybrid: medicinal, personal and pleasurable, these poems are lyric documentaries of an imagined reality. Welcome. Here, kings are unseated, and there is no apocalypse. “Loose little fists of apples and the moon” and “a perfume of opera” remain.
Melanie Noel has managed a remix of natural history in which an acute attention to the details of the world brings us up close, but at a marvelously odd angle. Things we know well remain familiar, yet take on new twists and, above all, new relationships—cashmere dawn and aviary eyelet—her stunning phraseology and vibrant vision put things together in novel, awakening ways. Tender and bitingly exact, this work is among the most exciting of our time. —Cole Swensen
In The Monarchs, we begin in a landscape humming with ants and bees and dripping with yellow and honey. We end in a far more dangerous, primordially powerful place. The bees have given way to the transformed human, and the honey has boiled to “royal jelly in our throats,” now ominously emergent in its richness. Over the course of the book, we seem to have traveled methodically via that "grid of the missing center," each line of sight or thought vibrating with intention and new reality, and arrived at the experience not of a decoded world, or of righteous ecopoetics, but of a place far deeper and more dire, coiled inside the body of a beauty and urgency "prior to speech." —Caroline Manring, author of Manual for Extinction, in Center for Literary Publishing, Colorado Review (5/6/2104)
There are several ways (if not many) to read Melanie Noel's uniquely imaginative, visually sumptuous, strange and wonderful, first, full-length book. One way not to, is to hold onto ideas you many have of a poem needing to be a 1st, 2nd or 3rd person, linear narrative with a beginning, middle and ending/closure with some sort of lesson learned (or not learned) or consequence, tragic or happy, experienced by the narrator and, by projection, you, the reader. And for much of this book, you might as well keep your inner English teacher in the closet, because you'll find line fragments, subject/verb inversions, vast spaces between words, lack of punctuation, single parenthesis, multiple columns, and even an instance or two of non-recursive language, i.e., the opposite of "deep grammar" or the connectedness and redundancy that Chomsky (when he's being a linguist) believes is hard-wired into our cognitive/speech processes. It's almost as if Noel is using words like a visual artist—a collagist—uses photographic assemblages, or a filmmaker uses disparate scenes, which then are put together to form relationships which may be perceived as a narrative arc of sorts. As if, we, the readers, were to not only read words, but look at them, too, perhaps noting that some might (somehow physically) weigh more than others or be of a different glow or color or taste or speed and therefore need to be set apart or whole line might sink or spin....
Those of you from Seattle may know Melanie Noel as a collaborative artist, performance poet, curator, teacher. She is a practitioner of synesthesia and the imagination. "We'll find ways of listening with our eyes and seeing and tasting with our ears, with antennae for the ways our work might extend past a single dimension," as she explains in the descrption of her workshop, "Felt: synesthesia & Poety."
Yes, indeed. And those of you who've attended her readings/performances also know she seeks to interact and collaborate with her audiences as well. And she does this in THE MONARCHS too. As she writes in "Tract," the book's opening poem, "vary me into your boundary." So I hope you'll read this book with all your senses and imagination, and find your own boundaries to be more porous and stretched than before." —Larry Laurence in THE RAVEN CHRONICLES Volume 18, No. 1-2: Why We Do What We Do