Containing bright, bold letters mailed from a warm, generous heart, Sueli Eleni Mone’s Poems For Henry: Reflections is as crowded and breathless as the life she tries to find words to describe. And while the subjects – faith, family and work – are often commonplace, the contexts are decidedly not. Many of the poems are set in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga where Mone, the daughter of missionaries, lived, worked and raised a family, while a handful of others are written from Barrow, Alaska, where she now makes her home.
At their best, they show readers snapshots of daily life in strange and exotic settings. For example, if many of us worry, as Mone does in “A Great Lady,” about how to “Pay school fees, clothes, tuition,” few of us will find ourselves “Praying deeply for young son / Nearly lost to python!”
Mone’s writing style is urgent, exclamatory, emphatic, the words spilling onto the page in telegraphic bursts of impression and information as she records the adversities and triumphs of her life. In the long poem, “Going Home,” she effectively contrasts the reader’s expectation of her return to a tropical paradise with the reality of arriving on the main Tonga island of Tongatapu during political strife: “Tis no heavenly land of mine… / Hefty presence of Tongan soldiers… / Local newspapers spooning out / Strong doses of / Dissatisfaction, inciting rebellion… / Tis no heavenly Land!”
Unfortunately, all too often, Mone’s enthusiasms outrun her ability to particularize the experiences she is writing about, and the reader is more often puzzled than enlightened by the abstract nature of her many flat, bald, declarative statements. What is needed is a stronger, thicker fabric of detail to give the narratives more weight, more heft, more real life. On the evidence of these poems, it’s a life well worth writing about.
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