Flowers as Mind Control is a lyrically compelling collection of poetry written by Laura Minor, the winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, selected by John Hodgen. Minor’s debut collection is a truly original compilation of loneliness and wanderlust with meditations ranging from music and alcohol to homesickness and loss. Minor is no stranger to life on the road and it shows by the inclusion of scenes from Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Los Angeles, and even New York. It is the combination of craving something new and being at a loss for what has been left behind. In “Exiled in Palatka” Minor says this: “What I crave is a nod to the dust that settles in layers / upon a picture frame the rag can’t reach. / It takes going somewhere else / to find out what you’ve been missing.”
Minor’s truth-telling ability and her vivid imagery depict the country through the use of unconventional verse allowing the strange beauty found in the mundane to shine in unexpected ways. This use of surrealism can be found in many poems in the collection, including “Bildungsroman in Red” where the simple image of smoking on a leather couch weaves the mundane with the strange beauty of “sprouting opium balls on the cherries of imaginary cigarettes.” In the next line “We glow like twin redheads,” the image of one person smoking on the couch becomes two as “whole counties leave their daughters to careless cowboys.” The poem continues:
I am tender as a mouth.
Like breaking a wine bottle off a rock
and pretending the shards are ocean glass—
this cannot be neat.
Minor’s ability to take an image and cultivate it until it lingers in the minds of her readers allows her to explore the relationships between men and women. Minor focuses on the resilience of women in many of life’s situations, from walking hometown streets to traveling so far away that home is something only seen through memory. She scrutinizes how women can be abashed yet fierce enough to pursue their dreams even in the face of adversity. Indeed, she even goes so far as to dedicate this collection to “women everywhere who refuse to give up their dreams.”
Among the extraordinary women Minor writes about is Minor herself, exclaiming to anyone who will listen, “I want to break my yolk, ooze in public spaces.” And later, in moments of self-doubt, “I’m certain that by tomorrow, I will be a great person.” An extraordinary woman who can “unpack themselves like dirt around water.” Minor goes so far as to proclaim, “I’m someone, a rare flower.” Her voice is fresh and filled with a rawness and vulnerability the world of poetry is missing without her. Even when exploring topics seemingly unrelated to the overall theme of the collection, Minor finds a way to connect in a fresh, new way. In her poem, “I Don’t Camp Well,” Minor explores her lack of connection with nature. “You can’t reason with deer anymore than the sunlight.” The poem continues: “Coupling and terror are just two trees / in the same shallow water, roots commingled / with the sea level’s dooming groan, and me, / the lone, winsome variable of nature.”
“The lone, winsome variable of nature” reflects Minor as her writing transforms from being a connection to deer and wildlife, and transitions into being a moment of self-exploration. These expressions of loneliness and life on the road bind together in many of her poems celebrating the connection between family and those she meets during her travels. In the poem, “Everything Beautifully Sideways,” we see “a triangle of bodies holding up the sky.” The relationship between self and others is stressed. Humanity is a luxury and the connections built between people are frail. The poem continues, “But this grass doesn’t know the future.” A future where friendships and loves are built, then lost, then found again. “…No matter what we do, / This revolving ball of dirt will turn / Like a tea bag around a spoon.”
Minor again connects herself to the world, but at an intentional distance. Minor writes what she sees of humanity as she travels. Minor is an outsider in a world of nature and love. It is because of this, Minor’s work is filled with haunting imagery where the mundane becomes more than it was in a way that only she can express with such rhythmic beauty. We see the “grass dressed up in fire” in Primal. In the title piece of the collection, “Flowers as Mind Control,” we see the rain making the town “bloat like a fresh bun.” In “The Ricketiest Song in the World” we “watch lightning cook the weeds around my feet.” Minor watches like a wild new Whitman, ready to “dive into bricks looking for you.”
I want the muse that will drive me into the ground,
blazing up the wet dirt of my own grave.
Minor knows she is “not yet done, feeding the south with ballads that butter the sad mouths of strangers.” Flowers as Mind Control is a haunted devotion with a clear depiction of her role as a “cavernous, traveling siren screaming slow jams.”
Flowers as Mind Control
By Laura Minor
Published January 7, 2022