The Psychiatrist, by Mariela Griffor, Reviewed by Jason Storms

Mariela Griffor’s collection, The Psychiatrist, was published last year by Eyewear Publishing. Griffor’s book, a new and selected comprised of poems written between 1986 and 2011, many of them centering on the political turmoil Griffor witnessed in Chile juxtaposed against her later life in suburban Detroit. And like this tension between war and peace, between North and South America, the tennis game of memory and forgetting plays a starring role in The Psychiatrist, along with the motivations that prompt both of those actions.

In “Heartland,” the speaker opens the poem saying

“I wish I could put my heart

under the faucet in the sink

and with the running water

wash away the thumping

thoughts you evoke.”

As in this poem, the speakers that Griffor marshals through her poems often find themselves as survivors enslaved by their memories, occasionally anxious that these memories will betray the lives they’ve worked so hard to erect away from the strife of war. With “Child’s Eyes,” the speaker considers a child, with his uncanny ability to see the unseen and hear memories otherwise holding their breath, seeing into her past:

“I don’t want him to see

the puddle of

old pain and rusty love

that grows inside me,

the spider web of my disappointment,

a beaten heart that

has never overcome the loss of him.”

This particular passage deftly outlines a common move throughout the book: the way an emotion, a memory, begins with an image, an acknowledgment, and then spiderwebs into deeper losses and repressed memories that the speakers work so hard to restrain. It speaks to Griffor’s craft as a poet the way the speakers’ disclosures of hiding, of forgetting, etc., are often shorter lines—quiet and taught—that unravel and become longer as the hidden becomes the exposed.

Carolyn Forché has long ago written about the need to blend the political and the personal for political poetry to really have any punch, and Griffor is well aware of this in the way she threads nostalgia for people, for customs, and for a country given up to the sinister machinations of politics. With these maneuvers, there’s an interesting undercurrent to The Psychiatrist that ultimately privileges the personal over the political. Speaking of a grandmother’s manipulative regulating of her smile, one speaker says, “Even war is not so cruel.” And the losses are never really ideological, or political, but rather, personal.

With all of the loss, all of the politics, The Psychiatrist finds itself ever wrestling not merely with how to live, but how to survive, how to continue. In “Amnesia,” the speaker notes that

One remembers

there exists much that one

would not want to forget.

In Michigan and in Europe, to which many poems allude, the specter of Chile and of what was survived are ever testing the speaker’s mettle and resolve, noting “And then one tries / to forget.” But forgetting is never possible. In the same way that the enjambment on “tries” is forever hanging, so, too, is the impulse to forget ever in motion, but never possible.

****

Jason Storms grew up in Northern Michigan and now lives in Ferndale, Michigan, on the border of Detroit–a city you’ve probably read about in Dante. His writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Fugue, SLAB Literary, and The Oakland Journal. When he’s not writing, he works for W.W. Norton. Prior to Norton, he survived Oakland University (which you’ve probably read about in Jane Austen).

Mariela Griffor is an editor, translator and poet. She was born in the city of Concepcion in southern Chile. She is the author of Exiliana (2007) and House (2007) and founder of Marick Press. Mariela holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New England College. Her forthcoming publications include the translations Canto General by Pablo Neruda (Tupelo Press, 2015), and Bye, have a good time! by Kristina Lugn.(http://www.marielagriffor.com/);(http://marielagriffor.weebly.com/about.html)

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