By Greg Bem
They put our body
into the text
and there we are
made to wonder
(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 1)
Back in 2016, I was made aware of Sarah Mangold’s extensive catalog by way of the publication of her latest book at the time, Giraffes of Devotion. I ended up reviewing four of her works altogether, and occasionally came across her readings and engagements in the Seattle literary community between then and now. Giraffes in particular stuck with me as a book filled with the engagements of ghosts. A powerful feminist exploration of historical found text and the channeling of voices from eras past, Mangold’s work created a sort of time traveling choir that (at the time) left my gawking and to this moment has made me think about poets’ enduring capacity as archivists and historians.
Now we’re into 2021, and I have come across Mangold’s latest volume, Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, winner of the Poets Out Loud Prize from Fordham University Press, and “out loud” only begins to describe this exquisite return to the form of ghosts, near and far, lost and found. In this book, generally speaking, Mangold’s aim is to bring attention to taxidermist Martha Maxwell and “the wife of the father of modern taxidermy,” Dalia Akeley, and their realities, otherwise faded or ignored. Mangold approaches natural history texts and other sources, funneling their words into a repurposing. This is a project of presence and one in which Mangold responds to the problem of absence. In fields dominated by men, Mangold provides an investigation into the possibility of, and the reality of, women in those spaces.
What interested me was
the way ladies survive
in other people’s prefaces
(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 14)
There are several types of poems that fill the book’s pages. From elegantly aged lyric to blocks of prose poetry to lists to spacey and less formal additions, the book includes a lot of range, and a single reading will definitely not uncover the many patterns and constructions Mangold has included. Despite the collage effect of the found texts, the poems are undeniably easy and enjoyable to read, their subject matter intellectually challenging and emotionally dynamic. As I read, I felt like Mangold is offering certain forms of accessibility to the reader: the layers may run deep, but the surface of these poems is inviting and contains enjoyable qualities at the onset.
As the book unwinds and the poems continue, challenges are offered and afforded. Mangold has provided an extensive (to say the least) bibliography of the source and inspiration of the text as a whole, a field of portals waiting to be entered. The archivist, the historian, the poet: the forms converge and coalesce into a document that feels incredibly alive. This is “the choir” that Mangold has championed and led in past works, reconstructed. Or, unusually and amazingly, the taxidermy construct crafted by Martha Maxwell, or an alter-ego, a benefactor, a promoter. The representation is a cluster formed of erasure and assemblage, a polyvocal reality from history to the present. And at its forefront? Sarah Mangold, who spent years conducting the research that would feed the poems of Her Wilderness.
My own chosen world
of intellectual development
and feminist action
might indeed unstring
and unfit me
(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 23)
There is an exquisite conceptual balance between the found and the authored, where Mangold herself becomes the subject in some of the investigations. Indeed, Mangold’s presence within the works continues what I last investigated in 2016: a commitment to not only be for the research but to be of it, to have a stake in it, and to embed. Mangold has created collages of images that explore taxidermist Martha Maxwell’s collections. Metaphorically and literally, Mangold has offered an abrupt and present dualism: she has applied a collage method to create stereographic images. It is worth looking at the images through the flow of the book’s poetry, but I found myself paging back through the book time and time again to revisit these images as moments of process and result; they are, as much as the text, reflective of Mangold’s process of work.
In Her Wilderness, Mangold is providing images and text derivative of the past. The poet wants to fill the masculine void with a feminist revisiting, crafting a life out of a static, oppressive history. There is much that should (and will) be said about this project, and for me I found Mangold’s presence in the work to be the most fascinating. The poems flit and jump between the pulling at the strings of found text, but Mangold’s voice is undeniable. It creeps in, manages to find a place, and is defiantly present. Most found poems lose the author’s voice and tone, but not here, not within Her Wilderness, and as I read the book cover to cover, I kept thinking: perhaps the book’s truths are just as much rooted in Mangold’s reality as the goal of the restructure and positioned text.
she braced against the inequalities of the bark and drew
herself up among branches
(from Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners, page 41)
You can find the book here: https://www.fordhampress.com/9780823297702/her-wilderness-will-be-her-manners/
Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com