by Megan Mericle
The poetry collection Flourish is a dictionary of abstractions and natural wonders, arranged thematically instead of alphabetically. Even the table of contents functions as a poem, as the one-word titles and short descriptions encompass characteristics of life like “Light,” “Sky” and “Sound.” Clough manages connect the concepts with her unique style while still maintaining a sense of wonder. She plays with the building blocks of the world and adds hints of personal experience without overestimating her own significance.
Clough also plays with words, and the surprises in her word combinations make the poetry a delight to read. Stone is “earth knuckles,” grass is the “hair of the earth” and salt is a “jewel of choice.” In the poem “Unknown,” Clough compares the unknown to a retreating creature and a paisley couch. Its antonym is “photogenic” and its synonym is “flicker.” This definitional wordplay mimics a dictionary, but in truth tells much more. The description of “unknown” as a laughing trickster reveals how impossible it is to know the secrets of the world, but how human it is to try. Clough tackles concepts we take for granted, reminding us what it means to be human.
Clough is also able to weave humor into her dictionary, making the pieces refreshing to read and adding to their depth. In “Shape,” she mocks the analysis indicative to the genre when she states, “This is an abstract poem. Do not look for hidden meaning, narrative, or significant line breaks.” The same humor arises again in “Middle” when she states, “Between the letters A and C is the letter B. Discuss this among yourselves.” The contradiction in “Unknown” reveals the absurdity behind the lack of human understanding: “The unknown never does the same thing twice. Then, maybe it does. Who knows?” But Clough does not sacrifice image for wit; her best moments are born out of her mastery of language and reversals, as in: “it took a lot of irritated oysters to make the pearly gates” in the poem “Heaven.”
Above all, Flourish is a reminder of the simple abstractions that make up our language. Clough describes the flesh and bones of the earth, from “Cold” to “Wind” to “God.” The poetry is a great comfort; Clough tells us we live in a galaxy that “holds us in its arms” and reassures us that God will always exist because there will always be mystery in the world. She emphasizes the cyclical nature of life: “Sounds” reminds us that while we think of time and life as a terminal line, in reality, both are unending curves, or perpetual sound waves. And “in the real world, it is all middle,” since we cannot remember the beginning of our lives, and will not know our end. But that also means we are destined for renewal, as “freshness is irresistibly attracted to time. If you stay long enough, all your body’s cells are replaced by new ones.”
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 2.
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