Cynthia Arrieu-King, Manifest, Switchback Books, 2013

Reviewed by Tony Mancus

[Review Guidelines]

I'd intended to approach Cynthia Arrieu-King's book of poems, Manifest (winner of the Gatewood Prize, selected by Harryette Mullen and newly out from Switchback Books) slowly and maybe from a bit of an angle, then to pop up and pepper it with questions to try and make it speak for itself. Questions like, what meaning is meant by "manifest" in this book?
Looking is moss that needs space.
They were told, Copy the animals, scrape charcoal to paper's bite.
She walked through the salon of creatures listed and stuffed—
straw, sand inside skin, a herd of each kind posed. (40)

Or maybe...it's hard for a book with a single word title to escape its sense of definition—do you find that you're able to slip out of the snare of the dictionary?
A bristling fir
whispered about my vanishing. The great silence.

How, fade to black,
I, the girl of your dreams, am also this tan middle-aged man
I swept into suits
and hanged. (20)

Or to use the questions the book itself poses (a tool that King uses deftly and that points to the point of all of this, right? She's pressing the world, trying to get at what matters and in so doing casting our thoughts and our heads and our hearts further on into life and the things that surround us. Her questioning is never an interrogation, though; it pushes toward a sense of knowing, but revels in the fact of all that remains unknown.) to formulate an interior investigation into some of the issues she's addressing:

Do you believe in fornication? (47)
As if this diffuses our wanting.
As if this anything can be explained. (43)

How in this confusion can beloved things accumulate? (62)
Feeling of home, feeling of home.
I'd heard of a painter who decided she would do without color—
We could pearly gray snow flung like the dead. (38)
I barely remember anything about that sadness except it
wiped off my kid-face. (56) Pang.
Pang no longer antecedent to the whim. (58)
how holy things descend in the order of appearance:
vote fades to blip, a tile floor goes ulcerous, a dress-shirt
limp with the tide pools. (30)

But all of this feels a bit too forced and Cindy King's poems are nothing if not seemingly effortless. She is able to enjoin history, art, the voices of those we love and have lost, those we don't know or know too well—King is able to build a world that is somehow both sharper and softer than this, our inhabited real. And it feels like that is the true beauty here.