Bird-Brain by Matt Mauch. Trio House Press, 2017.
Review by Sarah Stock
Matt Mauch’s Bird-Brain inspires a sense of wonder and longing that can only be likened to the inevitable urging of avian migration. The theme of birds, as the title implies, is carried strongly through the book. Mauch’s birds often possess wisdom that is passed along to the speaker, as in the poem “‘May you live through a thousand winters,’ like ‘aloha,’ is our greeting:” “The bird tells me, Your stomach, more so than your brain, / is the part of you that remembers best / what needs remembering most.”
In other cases, birds that are bound in some form of literal or metaphorical captivity represent a desire for freedom. “You say, ‘Promise’” is a strong example of this latter depiction. In this poem, Mauch uses the idea of bird hatchlings to convey the vulnerability associated with accepting a promise: “like the recently hatched, featherless / and blind / among brothers and sisters / just as featherless, just as blind / all shivering.”
Couplet by couplet, Mauch takes the ordinary and reimagines it through vividly descriptive lines that toe the line of stream-of-consciousness while conveying the musicality of spoken-word poetry. Flowery diction and unnecessarily complicated images occasionally obscure the meaning of his longer works, but Mauch draws readers back in with strong, often cheeky, final lines. Oftentimes, these endings find a way to circle back to the poems’ titles, which occasionally seem like self-contained poems themselves. In the poem “And you thought I was dancing,” the speaker leads us through the subjects of trees, entropy, hurricanes, and rabbit anthropologists before concluding: “I just hit DELETE, acting as a judge, jury, and executioner / (like Milgram said I would) to a line I was in love with. / You would’ve loved it, too. Now you’ll have to pretend / you know exactly what I meant to say last. / Now they’ve put the spotlight / on both of us.“
As a whole, Bird-Brain is a captivating read that reaches far beyond the label of “bird poems.” Mauch is able to convey a wide range of human emotions through ordinary scenarios accompanied by dazzling imagery and clever lines. While some poems may require a dictionary or encyclopedia on hand to decipher the buzzwords or pop culture references, they are well worth the effort.