By Melanie Moro-Huber
NYQ Books, 2012
Reviewed by Nicelle Davis
In Axe in Hand, reviewer Nicelle Davis describes a book which is a place of multiple perspectives, a conversation, a portrait of circus freaks, and a “friend to anyone who has ever felt odd,” which, she points out, is all of us.
Axe in Hand, by Melanie Moro-Huber, is a full house—with conversations between bugs, freaks, geeks, poets, seas, children, and ghosts, this collection is a room filled to symphonic capacity. In her poem, “Born on a Blue Day (Daniel Tammet)” she writes, “To adopt chaos a mind might recite π for hours.” By making reference to a number with no clear relationship to another, it seems this book is a collection in the true sense of collecting multiple perspectives—Moro-Huber captures a choir of personae to make music out of the chaos of our world.
This book is a friend to anyone who has ever felt odd (which, Axe in Hand suggests, is everyone). The joy and troubles of a dragon fly among house flies correlates to the alienation of a poet among those who prefer watching television to reading a book. In the poem “Dragonfly Evacuee” a dragonfly explains, “There is comfort in being the same as everyone else.” The Dragonfly continues its confession by saying:
Still I’m starting to believe walls are happy enough places.
Yet I must confess when the air is warm I slip outside
to visit the river, and when I hear a frog calling for a mate,
or see the cattails dipping down, the water-skippers playing
hop-scotch, I think about water for a long, long time.
How generous. How disengaged.
Without being heavy handed, Axe in Hand is a political statement against disengagement. Written at a time of economic and social upheaval, it is hard to read these poems and not question our priorities. The poems implore us to be active participants with our surroundings. Her lines are crafted to make us laugh, cry, and be present at the imaginative leaps found in each stanza.
In the tradition of oddities, Moro-Huber includes several poems about freak shows. In her poem “Freak Show 2: Masterpiece Theatre,” the ashes of a man are kept in Starbucks cups; this poem is placed next to “Freak Show 3: Fanny Mill’s Wish” which is about the historical freak show of The Big Foot Ohio Girl. In these poems, our ideas of normalcy are questioned, along with the ethics involved with voyeurism. Such poems highlight the poets self-awareness, as the voyeurism and ethics involved with any art form are brought into question with lines such as, “[I]t doesn’t really matter if he became a relic / or just a gruesome ornament adorning the mantel.” Materialism gives way to process, as the body is secondary to the life it lives. The same is true of poetry—it is the active exchange between artist, medium, and reading that is the main focus of this collection.
Some might criticize the book for being too aware of poetry. Many of the poems are of a poet making commentary on poetry. The title poem for instance, Axe in Hand (The Perpetually Present State of Poetry) reads,
Hold the wood steady
as the blade swings.
Chop. The splinters fly, gather
the kindling. Ask for mercy,
or don’t. Count your fingers
to teach that language.
May as well make a snake sign.
Do you accept the blindfold
or keep close watch on the skin
of your wrist?
While some poems about poetry exclude readers, Moro-Huber’s work illustrates how art is for everyone. Everyone! Poetry can be found in everything, even toilet paper, as she proves in her very funny and poignant poem, “Toilet Paper.”
Melanie Moro-Huber’s ability to weave tragedy with humor, absurdity with realism, allows readers to be consumed by images. These images lead to questions rather than conclusions about the meaning of art and life. This isn’t a collection with an ending; these poems expand with every reading. Along with depth in meaning, this collection is vast in content and tone. There is a little bit of everything in this book, which makes it a meeting place for several types of readers. Axe in Hand is a place where life happens.
Originally from Utah, Nicelle Davis now resides in Lancaster, California, with her son J.J. Her book, Becoming Judas, is scheduled to be released from Red Hen Press in 2013 and In the Circus of You from Rose Metal Press in 2014. You can read her e-chapbooks at Gold Wake Press and Whale Sound. Her first collection of poems, Circe, is available from Lowbrow Press. She runs a free online poetry workshop at The Bees’ Knees Blog and is an assistant poetry editor for Connotation Press.