THE AFTER-DEATH HISTORY OF MY MOTHER by SANDY MCINTOSHFIONNA DONEY SIMMONDS Reviews
The After-Death History of My Mother by Sandy McIntosh
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2005)
Sandy McIntosh’s The After-Death History of My Mother is whimsical, sharp, humorous and clever. It’s multi-hued content reflected in the multicoloured joyful painting of its cover. The joi de vie of the art is a shocking contrast to the stark declaration of death made by the title. This juxtaposition continues through the book with poems sectioned into moments of contrast to those before and after them. It seems to dare the reader to follow the thread of McIntosh’s thought, to try to keep pace with what at one moment is funereal slow and the next as fast as the night creature avoiding the glare of a porch light.
Within the covers a wistful melancholy subtly spiced with an occasional touch of anger or a pinch of malice accompanies the title section. Frustration, hurt and confusion are emotions we are left with despite attempts to portray moments lightly. There is a strong sense of these poems section being written as a kind of therapy. The second section "With" continues an investigation into what is left behind when people die. This time by teachers, mentors, poets rather than family members. He begins this section with a notation giving the meaning of padeuteria -- a poem giving thanks to our teachers -- and in each poem McIntosh shares with us eccentricities and individuality.
That evening was long ago. Hays died first, then several years later,
Ginsberg. Ignatow, never subtle in person, looked significantly at his
wristwatch, then at me.
When Ignatow died he left me his watch.--from “Ignatow Interrupts a Dream”
In these lines there is love, there is regret, there is humour, and there is more than a hint of hero-worship. The camaraderie is stated in the preceding passage in which the poet has been sitting on the porch with these venerable figures. Tender emotion is powerfully suggested as McIntosh lays bare any barriers erected by life. There is elegance in the poems of this collection and a sophisticated imagery that keeps the reader on the sidelines. Poems like “Obsessional,” “Ignatow Interrupts a Dream,” “With Ignatow” and “With Hays” are infused with a grace that reminds me of AS Byatt and her bestseller Possession. These two writers possess an indefinable ability to mythologize. What they create is not going to be merely for the moment, it is going to remain with the reader, be compared in the future to new writings. McIntosh and Byatt write for the lofty hallowed halls of immortality, whether they mean to or not.
The room dusky,
Brutal cinder block decorated
With streamers. Each rickety table
Disguised with gift paper.
--from “IV Obsessional (This is it)”
McIntosh’s ability to skip a whimsied path between prose and poetry is one of the most enduring factors of this book. He feels no need to confine himself to one style within a poem; occasionally he brings in drama as well. Perhaps in his next collection he will add lyrics and a news report, and the one after that can bring in a thesis and biblical sermon. I wouldn’t underestimate anything about this poet. He is a wild card, and they are often the best to read and follow. The After-Death History of My Mother is an energetic book. The reader is dazzled, bemused and caught unawares by the way McIntosh approaches his subject. A surreal book for a surreal today!
Fionna Doney Simmonds has published many reviews of poetry both in print and on the net. Formerly the Poetry Editor for feminist literary ezine Moondance.org, she has recently left that position in order to concentrate more on her writing. Living in the beautiful English county town of Shrewsbury, Fionna continues to draw inspiration from all around her and look for more ways in which to develop a wider appreciation of poetry in herself and others.