Menny Offers Poetic Commentary on Social Issues

Melissa Menny Takes on Domestic Abuse, Mental Illness and Social Anxiety in this Collection

The cover of Melissa Menny’s 2018 debut poetic collection, Mask Shavings, is rather deceptive. Bright neon butterflies seem to flutter invitingly at readers as they float off into a white abyss. The cover image implies that the text within will offer up soothing, light poetry; the kind that would ease the minds of those who read it. But that is not the case. Menny’s poetry does not aim to imbue an effervescent sense of calm, but rather focuses its attention on such sobering subjects as mental illness, domestic abuse, and social anxiety. While Menny’s poems could benefit from a more creative manipulation of language, she does use her poetic voice to bring awareness to the aforementioned (and very important) issues.

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In the concluding poem of the collection, “To the Domestic Abuser,” she interrogates what motivations a person could have to trick themselves into thinking that causing terror at home is in anyway acceptable. She asks, “Was your idea of love birthed in tragedy? / Are reflections of yourself distorted imagery? / Do you pick up your hands and notice its weight?” Instead of painting this figure as a flat villain with no dimensions, her work instead makes an attempt to understand how and why someone would act this way while at the same time condemning this behavior. “But in the end, you’ll never experience the love you’re dying for,” the speaker warns.

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One of the loveliest, even airiest, pieces in the entire collection is “The Confidence Poem.” The poem is “the rare breed of beauty.” Menny’s descriptions of “…a fragrance commercial on loop…” are sharply accurate of those fantastical commercials and the vibrating strength, the utter opulence they try to instill within the viewer’s core. 

The one truly optimistic piece of the collection, “The Confidence Poem” is a welcome rest stop in what is an honest, yet melancholic text. This is a poem that will encourage its readers to haughtily shake out their hair and “…melt the hearts of conflicted monsters…”

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Yet it is the piece “Ornaments” which seems to boast the most creative and beautiful language in the collection. Its opening lines are magnificent. The speaker states, “Inside my decor are cobblestones / My womb is coated in ornaments / My red velvet walls are October halls.” It is in this poem that the strong potential of Menny’s writing ability shines through.

She does manage to insert a bit of fire into these (at times, despondent) pages with a neat, little insult within her piece “To Little Boy Hood & Brother No Good,” which combats male domination over of the female body. “Hush little man, / You might learn something” the speaker retorts when men suggest to her how she should wear her hair, on how she could attract their gaze. The men’s rudeness and lack of social composure leads the speaker and the readers to wonder aloud “…if you’re smarter than the run on awkward sentences / That you unfortunately allow yourself to finish…”

Melissa Menny’s willingness to apply her poetry to tough social topics head on in Mask Shavings is admirable and contributes to the important task of improving the diversity of the poetry world—both which are two very good reasons to pick this book up off the shelf. While the similar styling of the poems can become a bit tired throughout the collection, there are lovely selections to be found within the text. Her work is full of an honest vulnerability. It can be safely assumed that Melissa Menny only has room to grow as a poet and that her work will continue to reveal “…what is real and what is not.”

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