The Music Behind Me
reviewed by Madeleine Beckman
The Music Behind Me by Felice Aull.
Alabaster Leaves Publishing, ISBN: 9780615700670, Paperback $14.00
The Music Behind Me is a slender, unassuming though powerful book of poems – much like the poet behind the book.
Felice Aull began writing poetry about 12 years ago, but that’s really not accurate, since poetry was always percolating in Aull – it’s just that she took the road that was more of a challenge – Medicine & Science.
Now, after a hefty, hearty and frankly – astounding career, including helping to establish a field – that’s just now beginning to emerge (Medicine & Humanism) – Aull has embarked on yet another career – that of poet.
She brings with her – years of looking at life, events, and complexity– through a scientist’s eye. What is a scientist’s eye? A way of seeing with a trained eye that informs all situations; it is what separates the scientist from the non-scientist. This is unarguable.
And, Aull brings this back-story to her poems – and readers will be happy she picked up her pen (computer).
A petite woman who chooses her words carefully in conversation, carving sentences like a sculptor, Aull has managed to fill her first volume with an expanse of time and experience that doesn’t weigh the reader down, rather, traversing the poems seems like a flight; the pilot someone who knows the depths and heights – but without force, keeps perspective, and stays connected to the reader.
This last point is particularly noteworthy. So often, when reading poetry, the reader is an outsider peering into the poet’s “story”. Not the case with The Music Behind Me. We’re never left behind. And to Aull’s credit – the reader comes out of this slender, seemingly shy volume – nourished and with much to think about.
Take for instance the poem “Daughter in Her Eighth Month:”
Approaching the predicted
midpoint of her life
she is now profoundly pregnant.
It is her first, and no technology
was needed, only the hormones
released by love, and a watchful womb.
a state I did not crave, just as
I did not crave to be a mother
until she thumped her way
into my world, as now her fetal girl –
that floating fingered shadow
the ultrasound detects,
detecting lack which means
she’ll have a daughter too--
The poem continues – discussing what, of course, is natural – mother and daughter – poet and daughter – begin to separate, as daughter and her daughter begin to emerge.
Separation appears in other poems in the book, though it may not seem initially like a separation. For instance:
Alice Neel Paints A Portrait
of herself at 75, nude, working it
for five more years while breasts
sag lower, belly grows more lax,
body following its own path.
She is seated with weapons –
Paint brush and rag. Look
at her watching you, the wall
in blue pastel, blue shadow
on leg and face, her old woman’s
whiteness, the eyeglasses
for relentless vision. Look
at Alice seeing herself, knowing
what you will see.
Though the poem may appear on first read to be about Neel – it’s really about each of us, all of our bodies and how we relate to them, honor them – put them out there for all to see. And, if we’re bold and strong, say – yes, this is me too, perhaps, not as beautiful as I once was, no longer capable of bearing fruit – but hey, I’m still painting, still have my weapons.
And like Neel, when you look at Aull’s poems, what you find is a fierce woman with her weapons – her pen and paper (computer), but really – it’s her mind. And, I trust, like a wave or root, Aull will continue to push forward in herself and her poems – making sense out of what is logical, but often illogical – a perfect melding of science and literature.
Madeleine Beckman is the author of Dead Boyfriends, a poetry collection. Her poetry, fiction, memoir, articles, and reviews have been published in print and online. She is the recipient of awards and Artist-in-Residency grants in the U.S. and abroad. She is Contributing Reviewer for the Bellevue Literary Review, and teaches in the Medicine & Humanism Program at NYU Medical School, NYU/Langone Medical Center. She has been a Contributing Reviewer to The Literary Review and and a member of the Gallatin Review Advisory Board (NYU). Madeleine holds an MA in Journalism from New York University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Visit Madeleine at Write Downtown.