Wonder Rooms (Review Series #2)
I’ve started writing little reviews for ImageUpdate. What a pleasure, to receive delicious new books in the mail and dash off anonymous thoughts about them! This one–Allison Funk’s Wonder Rooms–was a particular pleasure.
Let’s start here: “bestiary” is a wonderful word. To begin with the superficial, it is fun to say, beautiful in the mouth. Now deeper: the medieval makers of bestiaries, cataloguing animals both real and mythical, were mixers—art-with-text; mermaids-with-marmots; the scientific impulse to parse and catalog with the religious impulse to uncover meaning. Using collected curiosities and beautiful-in-the-mouth language as her starting point, Allison Funk does all of these things in her fifth book of poems, Wonder Rooms. In “6 rue de Savoie, Paris,” one of a handful of poems that center on artist and Picasso muse Dora Maar, Funk writes: “Still, she was / comforted by her curiosités. A plaster virgin. Suitcase labeled / Passenger Markovitch. A scrap of paper stained brown on which / she’d written Blood of Picasso.” Funk does not so much seek comfort in her curiosités as use them as starting points for examining a decidedly animate life—liquidly alive through the sepia overlay of bestiaries, artifacts, and the remarkable lives of now-deceased women (Maar, Teresa of Avila, seventeenth-century naturalist/painter Maria Sibylla Merian). She examines aging with no self-pity and an appreciative clarity of its beauties (as in “North Bridge,” observing “peace in a solitude / that polishes every surface”). She returns again and again to the story of a son whose life we watch from baby steps through “years of unhappiness, / accidents, arrests, the illness / an acid, that etched his mind” (“Loci”) to a three-story fall that he survives, although greatly altered: “No longer threatened or threatening, / of all who move / through Mercy’s quiet rooms / you are the quietest” (“On a Few Lines by Rilke”). In the wonder rooms of Funk’s poems, the point of all curiosities is to magnify truth rather than distract from it. The reader will leave with treasures. To quote from her poem “Basilisk (from The Ashmole Bestiary, 1511)”: “defying expectation, we lived / to see in the basilisk what we had become. / How at last we were unafraid / to look anything in the face.”
Purchase your copy of Allison Funk’s Wonder Rooms here.