Jessica Goodfellow’s Medeleev’s Mandala is a fantastic labyrinth of poetic imagination. Her playground of words comes alive, begging the reader to play along. The collection, which includes a range of works from traditional poetry to experimental forms, offers a fresh look at age-old ideas and patterns of thought.
The themes of the collection include fathers, breaking all the rules, religion vs. spirituality, words and meanings, beginnings and endings, history, truth, and time. She plays with form and content so much so that one reading of the text cannot possibly uncover all of the collection’s secrets.
The pilgrimage through the text begins with “The Problem with Pilgrims,” which calls to attention an interesting truth:
The problem with pilgrims is now you are one. Egret. Bittern. Crane.
… … (9)
and the journey starts with a hint of sarcasm. Goodfellow’s use of space in this poem, by inserting random ellipses, causes the reader to think deeply about words and pictures, style and tone. Every poem in the text is a thought-provoking springboard; the deeper we travel into the maze of the poet’s mind, the more the collection opens pockets of possibilities.
The third chapter of the text presents thirteen pieces of prose, which explore “The Girl Whose Favorite Color is Eigengrau.”
Pity the girl whose favorite color is eigengrau. She cannot say so without seeming to be pretentious. She is a lungfish, able to exist anywhere and thus at home nowhere (53)
and we do pity the girl, who unfolds before us, piece by piece. This chapter is heavily philosophical, like many of the works in the collection, but we come to know no other character in the text as the girl who loves the color eigengrau (German: intrinsic gray).
Perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, found in chapter four, is “The Book of the Edge.”
Another dark calculation for the halo-less,
the seraphs san serif, all wall and no roof.
In daylight words are walls are fact.
But come night, come even-
tide we remember the word invisible
can be written down. Silence too
betrays: anyone can speak of it, so fact
at night is roof, ancient marginalia. (67)
Reading and re-reading each poem in the collection yields myriad meanings, but “The Book of the Edge” speaks to the essence of what it means to be human. Goodfellow questions the definitions of words, pushing interpretation and nuance to the edge of reason.
Although a quick glance through the collection may leave some readers wondering how poems about mathematics, religion, universal truth, and language all belong in the same text, a closer reading reveals the ease and fluidity at which Goodfellow transitions from one theme to the next, intertwining multiple subjects into many of the poems. In chapter five, “The Function of the Comma is to Separate” explains the many uses of the comma. However, her experimental form offers a fresh look at why we insert commas into our sentences:
One function of the comma is to separate information about the source of a quotation from the quotation itself. For instance: John Keene wrote comma open quote Desire is comma among other things comma a function of repetition ellipsis period close quote (77)
By offering the words for the punctuation marks rather than inserting the marks themselves, Goodfellow requires the reader to question the very nature of grammatical design. Perhaps the most interesting piece in the collection closes our pilgrimage right where it began: “A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland.” This poem in six titled parts explores randomness and chaos:
Here in the disappe5aring prairie
I finally understand
how some infinities can be larger,
others smaller; how certain endless quantities move closer (91).
Goodfellow has inserting random numbers into the beginnings, middles, and ends of words, producing an inexplicable effect in the mind of the reader. We begin to question, not just words and meanings, but numbers, thought processes, and we carefully calculate the limits we have placed on communication. At first, the numbers confuse, but as the seven page poem persists, the reader ponders the meaning of randomness—a line of thought that questions the very question of how humans came to reside on planet Earth.
Mendeleev’s Mandala offers a fresh look at language and meaning, stretching human understanding to the breaking point. Any reader can find something to fancy in Goodfellow’s amazing collection. The philosophical to the simplistic, religious to spiritual, lovers of language to lovers of science and mathematics can all appreciate these poems from Mayapple Press.