Microreview of Angie Estes’s Enchantée

“They wrote to say they’d found my mother wondering / in the garage—like entering the ethereal sphere” (26). So begins the emblematic “Note,” from Angie Estes’s fifth collection, Enchantée. Here as in her previous books, Estes shows herself a dervish in the thrall of language, its disjunctures and permutations. In these circumstances, the tragic absent-mindedness of the mentally declining mother assumes an element of beatific curiosity. In many of the poems, Estes suggests that even our most solemn pronouncements belie a slip-of-the-tongue quality that allows us to glimpse metaphysical truth—if only we can attune ourselves to receive it. An avid translator of romance languages, Estes knows that an understanding of etymological history can tear the covers off our modern tongues. These heavily allusive poems telescope generously from the historical to the natural to the personal and back again: in “Dark Spots,” for instance, the aura of Estes’s departed grandmother becomes the variegated shade of anyone’s Rose of Sharon, and finally, the “fish scales covering / the sarcophagus in Sant’Apollinaire in / Classe near Ravenna” (36). Such passages allow us to travel with Estes beyond the bounds of our cultural and temporal frameworks and lend to the collection the rich, idiosyncratic detail of frescoes and tapestries. While Estes’s references often verge on the esoteric, her work retains throughout the immediacy—and accessibility—of visual art and music.

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