“When Mezzanine anchors itself, when its persona raises her head and shows the way, it’s a marvellous and startling collection.”
Zoë Hitzig’s debut poetry collection Mezzanine begins with a series of monologue poems. Inanimate objects, abstractions, and even places have their say. “The Lotus on Marina Bay Speaks” announces that “now it is time to watch lightforms dance / color across glass & marinawater.” An “object at the department store” begs to be taken “with you. You have so many things to look at.” These are the seductions of a living world, and the effect is compelling.
Yet within pages, Hitzig dives into deeper referentiality. When “The Tamping Iron Speaks,” a reader might intuit the connection to rod that penetrated Phineas Gage’s skull. However, “The Levee Speaks” is less intuitive. The line “Or skin slowly scraped away to reveal an innermost exhaustion” is vivid in itself, but its significance only emerges once that reader turns to the book’s endnotes to discover that the poem “draws on court records from the wrongful conviction of Damon Thibodeaux.” It’s crucial information, revealing the poem’s hidden depths. Still, the use of endnote glosses breaks the collection’s flow and is sometimes frustrating. The poems without their glosses are cryptic and sometimes inorganic; they need their connections revealed.
Layers of meaning become even more tangled as the book progresses. “Triple Witching” offers physical immediacy and environmental terror: “That’s not smog sitting on the lake / but smoke blown south from the fires / in Saskatchewan.” Yet the notes announce that “Triple witching refers to the days on which the three types of financial contracts in the U.S. securities industry expire. These days tend to see higher-than-usual trading volumes and price volatility.” Interesting, but the connection to the body of the poem lies unclear, underneath the smoke.
Hitzig’s engagement with economics doesn’t always intersect comfortably with her poetics. The “triple witching” definition breaks the poems clarity rather than offering new depths. As the book progresses, the reader is left to consider how useful economics can really be as poetic metaphor. “Silent Auction” ends with an exhortation to “Amortize the sun.” what shall we do with this? The sheer abstraction of the verb disorients. “Notes” is silent on this matter.
In the serial poem “Division Day,” abstraction is less problematic. The presence of the persona, an “I,” creates an anchor and a guide. We can trust the persona as she announces “I am trigger happy as the horizon / of a black hole. Today I am a fantastically small / coefficient. Yesterday I was helical as hellfire.” The poem is “in dialogue with” Stephen Hawking’s last paper, and the dialogue, as elevated as it is, is wonderful. Here is a conversation of fantasy and imagination, in which the self goes far beyond individual experience into meditations on the infinite.
When Mezzanine anchors itself, when its persona raises her head and shows the way, it’s a marvellous and startling collection. To flow better, its notes should be excised, separated, and inserted into the book proper: pasted in or simply interleaved like errata slips. If a few economics references are obscured in the process, well, those weren’t the best poems in the collection. Still, a future reader, carefully peeling layers away, might delight in finding them and fighting to imagine a sun reduced via regular payments, one instrument among many.