The World Disguised as This One by Mimi White; Review by Laura Maffei


In her tanka collection The World Disguised as This One, Mimi White writes with an exquisite sense of diction and rhythm, choosing and placing every word the way a painter chooses each hue and places every brushstroke. This results in poems that are quiet yet forceful, delicately precise yet immensely powerful. With the sure hand of a master, White is able to make her tanka do what the form does best: say in an evocative, visceral way what is not being said, as in, Since news/of your illness/the ground/has been too hard/to plant tulips (15).

Arranged in a sequence of the four seasons, the collection takes us through a year in the life of a fellow human being with whom the reader shares universal experiences. In winter: silence, solitude, hunger. In spring: longing, change, hope. In summer: movement, energy. In autumn: nostalgia, anticipation. The poems are often layered with a clear physical indicator for their season as well as the corresponding emotional theme, subtly expressed, as in, I did not see/the white-tailed deer until/they ran high-stepping/through the new grasses—why just a glimpse, I cried (spring, 37), and Whatever thermals/the red-tailed hawk climbs/I want to ride—/trees roads tinier/as if drawn by schoolchildren (autumn, 72).

White excels at the observational tanka as well as the pointed, questioning ones. This energetically drawn observation of a mallard is as vivid as they come: A mallard gobbles/one snail then another/shell muscled nub/of a body down the gullet/till it seems he will burst (51). This poem, with its simply stated question joined to its simple but powerful image, brings us to the same universal porch: What of our selves/do old friends bring/to our porch/midsummer/the sky darkening (55).
The collection is a wise and acutely-observed work about the human being in time, in nature, and in the self. Mimi White’s deftness with the tanka form and clear-sightedness about the human condition make The World Disguised as This One a gratifying read.

—Laura Maffei, editor of American Tanka and the author of Drops from Her Umbrella.

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