Ange Mlinko reads “Don Giovanni”
Don Share: This is the Poetry magazine podcast for the week of September 17th, 2018. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On the Poetry magazine podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.
Don Share: Ange Mlinko teaches at the University of Florida and her most recent book of poetry is “Distant Mandate.” We have two of her poems in the September issue.
Lindsay Garbutt: The one we’re going to listen to is called “Don Giovanni.” It was inspired by a voracious climbing rose plant she has in her garden. There are, of course, many varieties of roses, and this one, Mlinko told us, is called Don Juan ...
Ange Mlinko: ... and it’s incredibly difficult to wield because it has thorns on every inch of it. Big, huge thorns. And with a name like the Don Juan, you imagine this rapacious character from European legend.
Don Share: Mlinko said when she was writing the poem, she was also thinking about the new-found transparency in the #MeToo movement.
Ange Mlinko: And the idea that one can ever separate the arrows from power or beauty from pain. I just don’t think you can, really. So I think this poem was trying to get at something like that.
Lindsay Garbutt: Here is Ange Mlinko reading “Don Giovanni.”
It is eighty degrees in December.
It is he, on one of his furloughs,
bringing himself — and hell — up to date.
My Don Juan, the better climber
(as the mercury yo-yos),
is in a newly roused state,
the world circumcised away
from an out-of-season bud
leaving at the scrupulous rim,
as it unfurls, a darker appliqué,
like O-positive frozen solid
at the sight of one’s resuscitated victim.
This rosebush assiduously forks over
its works where most grandifloras falter,
thriving as far into the year as Capricorn.
While named after a lover,
it decorates its own altar
and wields an extraordinary thorn:
once I saw it catch a football
in those semiquaver quasi-teeth;
it is three-headed, like Cerberus,
a hybrid drawing bloodlines from a root-ball
on hands all that’s impure lies beneath.
Hands can train it, barbarous
as it is, on an arbor, and I might like
to take its thick canes in harness,
first pouring cement as a base
(so it would know I meant business).
Always poised to strike,
they eventually undo their stays,
baying out like a window
of garnet, as at Chartres
(torture chamber in its basement,
or so I hear). I wonder how
such a daemon rose got its start,
what fairy tale explains its scent ...
And then I go out tonight
and find him, swiping right
on every pretty face in candlelight.
It is almost Christmas. Stacks
of square plates. (It’s an open plan.) Racks
of bottles. The whites and blacks,
clear glass, and stainless steel sieves
denote compliance with standards.
A wire basket of freckled pears
is transparency; sterilized knives
give full disclosure; and as regards
the stemware, due diligence dares
a slip, especially on chanteuses like these
salting down from state-of-the-art speakers.
(Or is it sugar?) Does the chorizo flambé
not deter him? Gold as all hell, Valkyries
stand tall with beer to the brim. Beakers
in Siren form flush with Chianti, if not ambi-
valence. Recalling the steel meshes
cliffs against the vox
Dei of the sea, the myth refleshes:
ordering, in the manner of heroes,
an Andromeda on the rocks.
Christina Pugh: It’s just astonishing really, this poem’s ability to braid and weave this kind of incredible dexterity with figurative language, metaphor, description, even to move syntactically from one place to another through these images that are just so carefully built. I mean, what I’m talking about now is, as she would say, it’s the beauty side. There is a lot of beauty that really captured me in this poem, but of course, the poem is not just about beauty.
Lindsay Garbutt: There are thorns too. (LAUGHING)
Christina Pugh: (LAUGHING)
Don Share: (LAUGHING)
Lindsay Garbutt: Yeah, I agree. I feel like the stanzas are so dense with detail and rhyme and image that they feel like they kind of unfurl a little bit like a rose, with petals of different length and slightly different rhymes in each stanza. It feels dense like a garden, but also the word play has a definite biting, sharp undertone to it.
Ange Mlinko: It is three-headed, like Cerberus, / a hybrid drawing bloodlines from a root-ball / on hands all that’s impure lies beneath.
Lindsay Garbutt: So I return to this poem so many times and I get something new from it each time, and I really do think it’s wonderful.
Don Share: That sharpness is especially appealing because in that struggle—there are many struggles in the poem—but on the face of it, the struggle with the training of this climber …
Ange Mlinko: And I might like / to take its thick canes in harness, / first pouring cement as a base / (so it would know I meant business).
Don Share: Lest the lush language, you know, distract anybody, it’s very firm. It’s a battle for control. It’s almost like something turning the Garden of Eden inside out or upside down. I mean, here it’s the woman that really is sort of shaping and controlling things. And the muscularity of the lines is so striking, and the resoluteness of thought as it moves from one thing to another. It’s not like the kind of rapid juxtaposition that you find in so many contemporary poems that people have been doing for so long. It really is, you know, one thing blossoms into another. But what you realize is the life-force and effort and strength that’s required for all this to work out. It’s really an amazing orchestration of many things.
Christina Pugh: Mmhmm. And we do get the “O-positive frozen solid” almost at the beginning, sort of. There is blood in it, even sort of at the opening, when it’s really kind of knocking us out with its beauty. You know, moving from that into a contemplation of a certain kind of man and his relationship to women, and maybe to the world at large, is sort of being—although this is the wrong word for this—but being a little invasive, you know, in terms of how it’s growing, the way that it hangs on, it’s got that sort of assiduousness to it; in fact, that’s her word. And I think it’s just such a feat to be able to contemplate that and critique it, in a way that is not overboard with rhetoric but still feels like it’s moving in the same universe as, you know, as sort of the particularity of this plant. It’s really … it’s really extraordinary.
Ange Mlinko: I wonder how / such a daemon rose got its start, / what fairy tale explains its scent ... / And then I go out tonight / and find him, swiping right / on every pretty face in candlelight.
Lindsay Garbutt: Yeah, I love how it’s an updated Don Giovanni who’s, you know, swiping right on Tinder …
Christina Pugh: (LAUGHING)
Don Share: (LAUGHING)
Lindsay Garbutt: ... and it takes place in an open-plan kitchen and it’s very contemporary. But it mixes in all these, you know, mythic elements to it. I always laugh when I read the last two lines, the “Andromeda on the rocks,” cause you know, it’s like, oh, now we name craft cocktails after old myths now. But I think it’s very biting too. And I think another aspect of this poem that I loved is that it’s sort of based on the opera too, the way that it’s organized. It’s not called “Don Juan” after the flower, it’s called “Don Giovanni” after Mozart’s opera. It starts out in a garden, as this poem does, and ends with a very luscious feast. And so I feel like this poem does a sort of similar move from this rose in her backyard to this man on Tinder in a restaurant that’s very luxuriously serving wine and all kinds of “chorizo flambé” and things. So, I just feel like this poem works on so many different levels, and I appreciate it more and more each time.
Ange Mlinko: Ordering, in the manner of heroes, / an Andromeda on the rocks.
Don Share: You can read “Don Giovanni” by Ange Mlinko in the September 2018 issue of Poetry magazine or online at poetrymagazine.org.
Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all September episodes all at once in the full-length podcast on Soundcloud.
Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought of this program. Email us at [email protected], and please link to the podcast on social media.
Don Share: The Poetry magazine podcast is recorded by Ed Herrmann and produced by Curtis Fox and Catherine Fenollosa.
Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this program comes from The Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.
Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.