This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

May-June 2011

Book Review: Roy Miki’s Mannequin Rising

Mark CallananWebsite

Cover of Mannequin Rising by Roy Miki.The poems in Mannequin Rising, Roy Miki’s fifth poetry collection, are interspersed with the author’s photomontages, many of which contain storefront mannequins superimposed with images of pedestrians in the street. The mannequins can be taken as metaphorical commentary on the human figures in the frames; static and passive, “standing there at / attention all day”—as Miki puts it in the long poem “Scoping (also pronounced Shopping) in Kits”—they become symbols of 21st century consumerism, people mired in “the deep / sleep of consumption.”

Notions of identity in an age of globalization are visited throughout: “tell us who / we become in the bubble / wrap of our beholders,” Miki writes. The homogenizing force of globalization is not without resistance, however: a Tokyo food vendor’s specialty is served “only here.” In the same long poem, “Viral Travels in Tokyo,” Miki prescribes a kind of individualist retreat as vaccine against the viral spread of uniformity and commodity culture: “we need to place / our mind inside / our mind so that / the rhythm takes / our voice.” Miki’s speaker is both 21st-century tourist, “an unreliable / witness to fashion,” and a prophet in the marketplace, decrying current societal obsessions.

His language—elliptical, paratactic—is critical theory with line breaks. It often deflects comprehension, permitting only fragmentary understanding painstakingly teased out. Its relationship to its own methods is ambiguous. One can’t help but read the “docile insights / of the forlorn cultural critic eating / concepts on the planked boardwalk” as reflexive commentary.

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