Aliases & the Ambuscade:
A Review of Misty Harper's Guarding the Violins, Poetry Society of America, 2006
And the nominations for Best Alias in Guarding the Violins are:
The space stuck between these assumed names is often
more telling than the name itself.
The book is charged with obstruction of justice.
In custody, the book offers an explanation:
I was born on my due date,
The Judge: Nonsense. You are also charged with impersonating an allegory and intent to burlesque. How do you plead?
The Book: Not guilty, your honor. It was self-defense.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, the victim...
First question: In your affidavit, you mention you
were guarding the violins.
The Book: I believe I have answered that question several times. So let me repeat myself: I will go out of my way to avoid the Idiots.
Second question: Do you think merci has anything to do with mercy?
The Book: If a word's
origin is Latin,
Second question: Answer the question!
The Book: If the
trapeze artist falls into the net,
Third question: Thank you. Your Honor, the prosecution rests.
The Defense: Well, you did what the Prosecutors wanted you to do.
The Book: O Sawbones,
The Judge: Does the defendant wish to address the court before Sentence is announced?
The Book: Entire
populations of parasites and hosts
The Judge: Anything else?
The Book: Who was
the sad inventor of the curtain?
The Judge: That's enough. Come to order.
While Guarding the Violins gestures towards self-defense, it very quietly carries out an extended accusation, its real solo performance. Quoting from an old love letter, the narrator of "Circuses" admits, "I begin telling stories to occupy myself. / I play both storyteller and child." Harper leans on a strategy close to pantomime, where a single actress plays all the parts. Often, that show will sound a prediction, such as the one with which Harper ends the book: "I'm going to end with a preposition / to bother you, strict grammarian." This end note casts backward on the book's meticulous plotting, which would seem to belie its gentle nature. Though she performs brilliantly in this capacity, Harper traces the sadness the book radiates to its being a one person show.
Keywords: alias, allegory, burlesque, hard-boiled, merci, mercy, pantomime