Karen Lee Oliver’s Tales from the Mirwood is a collection of poems that resemble surreal dreams, with many mysterious images (spiral staircases, labyrinths, twilight) that often come alive through personification.
The volume is divided into three chapters: “On the Wings of Enchantment,” “The Grass Garden,” and “White Loom.” The first poem, “Through the Mists of Enchantment” invites readers into a book-long journey of fantasy: “Milk white clouds/ Seemed to descend./ Their long, tenuous fingers/ Curling mysteriously…” The vivid imagery is a strength of this volume, even if the images are sometimes overly familiar.
Many of the poems have medieval storylines and characters. “The Road that Lay Ahead” begins urgently with: “The rings our Knight wore were burning/ Brightly, with a new light only they possessed.” While this kind of plot and symbolism recalls Tolkien, these pieces are more focused on vignettes, memories, and symbolism than delivering a tightly-plotted epic adventure, an approach that works well for the poetic medium.
Oliver also includes more personal-seeming poems, pieces written in first person that peel back the illusions of the day to reveal a haunted narrator, as in “A Dark Illusion,” which begins: “I live/ With all the horrors/ Of the night;/ To which,/ My soul has an aversion.” These more intimate, vulnerable, and searching poems give readers a welcome sense of the contemporary psyche while still written with a gothic style.
In works throughout, nature comes alive with a will to protect an individual human, as in: “The tree moves in mystery to secure me/ From an eternity without water.” The same poem ends with questions and a resolution, “Is there a sky I can fall through/ Or is it all just nothingness?/ An endless pain on this tree./ The tree that moves Christ into my being.”
While some readers may want more originality from Tales from the Mirwood, those that hunger for mystical, nature-oriented fantasy will find much to enjoy.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.