Conjuring My Leafy Muse
Reviewer: Jessica Mason McFadden, Western Illinois University
Publisher: Headmistress Press
Mary Meriam has lavenderized the literary landscape and established herself as an enduring American poet-pioneer. Her remarkable poems and projects celebrate and redefine intersectionality as an art of intimacy, blending the borders between classical form and contemporary Sapphic content as well as the genres of the scholarly and the personal. The Lavender Poet takes things into her own hands, and her intrepid spirit is evident in each project she undertakes.
In 2010, Meriam took her pastel pen to the web and created the highly esteemed international bi-annual e-zine of fine lesbian poetry, Lavender Review. Three years later, Meriam’s lively commitment to the Sapphic cause has reached a new high with the debut of Headmistress Press. The press is a community project run by three poets who share the same devotion to the promotion and publication of fine poetry by lesbians. In her latest mistresspiece and first full-length book, Conjuring My Leafy Muse, Meriam offers readers of every origin and fancy a narrative bouquet of belonging. This lyrical collection is both a narrative of place and an ecofeminist memoir that delves far beneath external manifestations into the roots from which belonging grows and disperses.
Meriam addresses the notion of forgetting and the self-censorship of painful histories, bringing to light the turmoil and turning points of identity. The Jewish identity and mother-daughter relationship are fatedly intertwined by urgent elements kept in the dark. But Meriam, in contrast, holds nothing back from her reader. Instead, she conjures a poetic “mother-daughter dream” filled with psychological walls, hauntings, denials of identity, and transmutable natural phenomena. Enter Conjuring and enter the wooded, isolated world of witches, evil spells, glass-happy princes, and “the stone insanity.” Meriam takes readers tenderly, through the woods and fields of her past, into the soft and permeable flower field of her heart.
Identity is the root ball of the tree of human belonging in Meriam’s work, but abandonment is the dense foliage among the sparse and gentle flowers. Relationships serve as a form of history, defining identity: identity, in Conjuring, is more about intimate connection than affiliation. Conjuring is dense but without chaos— each poem embodies a pervasive yearning for belonging that connects and coheres an emotional history from all of the moments and periods in the collection.
One of the many beautiful facets in Meriam’s work is her ability create love from abandonment— to create a narrative of belonging from a painful experience of irreconcilable disconnection. She transcends narrative isolation; it is the lyric that connects her to the spirit of motherly nature, a history accessible only through openness and generosity.
Meriam’s collection is for anyone familiar with the psychosocial states of exile, separation, or otherness; for those who long for connection; and for anyone who appreciates a profound and ineluctable lyric. She reframes history in terms of layers — of moods, language, and events – in a set of stream of consciousness poems that are psychoanalytically and textually rich.
Deeply personal and charmingly playful, Conjuring My Leafy Muse is a collection in need of unpacking that will grip the reader, sway her into sorrow like the willow, and soothingly hold her up to the refracting surface of interpretation. The book is a much-awaited tribute to Meriam’s significant contribution to the lesbian and queer literary communities, one that shows her acute stylistic versatility, constant practice of her craft, unparalleled command of her raw talent, and ability to conjure the spirit of wild intimacy in the face of a history of stony dislocation.