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

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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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