Review: Autobiographical Fictions, by Maurice Mierau

Maurice Mierau, Autobiographical Fictions, (Windsor: Palimpsest Press, 2015). Paperback, 80 pages, $18.95.

Maurice Mierau’s poetry collection, Autobiographical Fictions, brings together an eclectic sampling of historical and literary figures, artists, and celebrities. Self-described as both poet and “paparazzo,” Mierau draws not only from biographies, but also snippets of letters, interviews, and news articles. His subjects range from ancient poets, such as Ovid, to present-day pop stars, such as Britney Spears. The collection deliberately juxtaposes high culture with pop culture, injecting erudition with voyeuristic pleasure.

For Mierau, the recording of one’s life hinges on the adorations, obsessions, and experiences of our corporeality. The opening epigraphs from Céline Dion (“We have a little frozen embryo waiting. My heart is attached to it already”) and Stephon Marbury (“I love to love a person that loves love”) anticipate Mierau’s concerns with the body, particularly its ability to cope with the onerous demands at the extremes of life, as it surrenders to sexual temptation, for instance, or dangerously skirts death. In “How Lord B Got So Thin,” for example, Mierau delves into Lord Byron’s scandalous biography and highlights the sexual transgressive dimensions of the poet’s body: “his sister-loving / glamour,” his “finagl[ing] teenage boys / into his villa,” and the “young girls who panted for his body.”

But fame is not only about glamour and glossy facades. “Celebs serve to keep beauty tragic. / Not everyone can die of talent,” as Mierau puts it. Abject tragedy is precisely what emerges in poems such as “All bad poetry comes from genuine feeling,” in which Mierau starkly depicts the harsh imprisonment of Oscar Wilde:

He ran six hours a day on the treadmill

and nightly turned on a sheeted board.

He ate gruel, suet, and cold

Australian meat.

[…]

The bucket overflowed with his liquid shit.

He emptied it three times per day.

In “The King of Pop,” a poem that plays off Michael Jackson’s lyrics and biography, we see how the icon’s body is central to fame and open to public consumption.

He felt nothing but hot breath

and future earnings. If you wanna be

my baby there’s a body you must wear.

His self a shell that sang and danced,

his body dangling in surgical costume.

But Jackson’s body, transfigured by fame and reduced to a “shell” and “surgical costume,” seeks reclamation when compared to the treatment of the child’s body. Mierau touches on Jackson’s highly publicized sexual abuse allegations and provides a sympathetic turn, spotlighting a desire for sanctuary, or a return to innocence:

But we’d wake up like dawn said the king

in drag, naming our special friends

[…]

I tucked them in, their bodies

safe in blankets and softly wrapped.

While Autobiographical Fictions is entertaining and surprising in its array of figures, at times the book slips into familiar tropes. Women are occasionally reduced to the coordinates of sex, beauty, and tragedy. “Her Name,” a poem about Marilyn Monroe, opens with: “Her name rhymes with sex and with / her recumbent body.” In “The Unchanging Nature of Beauty,” written for Posh Spice, the speaker describes her as a sad but “immaculate” woman who “does not let them see her cry / in her room each day” despite “know[ing] she has beauty inside.” Britney Spears is described as an “unregulated angel” and Emily Dickinson, reimagined as a tabloid journalist, “die[s] for beauty.”

A lyrical spirit shines bright when Mierau works from a more personal biography. The poet’s voice is most assured in poems such as “My Son Runs Away” and “Leaving,” which carry the cleanest and swiftest emotional impact in the collection.

Last night I left you in a field of snow

with a D minor wind blowing up stage left.

The howling wind was angry, it said No.

[…]

You slept and did not know

how soon I’d leave you in the open snow.

I dreamed of flying like a crow that night

and you looked pixel-dense, unreal.

Marked by intellect and wit, Autobiographical Fictions shows us “the pain of being stuck in a body” and how nothing can hide from the eye of the camera or the poet’s gaze. We each “fidget [our] way / onto the island of this page,” giving way to the poet’s scrutiny and creative speculation.
Gillian Sze is the author of eight poetry collections, including Peeling Rambutan (Gaspereau Press, 2014), which was shortlisted for the QWF A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. Her most recent book, Redrafting Winter (BuschekBooks, 2015), is a collection of rengas composed with Alison Strumberger over postal mail.