Helen Mirren Picks Out My Clothes. Andrew Terhune. Greying Ghost Press, 2009.
I’ll be honest, when I heard that Andrew Terhune was publishing his third chapbook, I got really excited. His slick sense of humor comes through well, but still manages to leave a sweet darkness lingering in many of his poems.
The book itself is a lovely object. The front cover sports a playing-card-like stamped image of a bird holding a clover. The book’s aesthetics are pleasant, right down to its black staples.
It is a quaint collection of eleven poems, each poem beginning with an action performed by Dame Helen Mirren. “Helen Mirren picks out my clothes for me.” Or, “Helen Mirren makes me breakfast.” Or, “Helen Mirren surprises me.” The poems themselves are short, and the collection is short, but it still feels like enough.
Each poem is a distinct scene, and the chapbook itself feels dreamlike. After reading it, I want to wake up and tell someone, “I had this strange dream where I was a kid, and Helen Mirren was making me do things like eat cereal and go to the zoo.” Then, of course, I would wonder what Helen Mirren was doing in my dreams. I would be tickled by the presence of her caricature. I would also be concerned—why is Helen Mirren in my dreams? Why am I a child in these dreams? This is where the darkness lingers.
Before reading Helen Mirren Picks Out My Clothes, I didn’t even know who Helen Mirren was, but Terhune’s portrayal doesn’t beg the reader to know Helen Mirren. I looked her up anyway, and the poems gained a little more life. The work captures her well. The poems do not depend on her, but her persona complements them well. In the poemes, Helen Mirren stars as herself, but herself as the Queen, the Dame, and her celebrity persona.
The language itself is simple. The end of one sentence often becomes the beginning of the next:
Helen Mirren makes me take
off my shoes. She makes me
take off my shoes and we hit
golf balls. We hit golf balls in
her back pasture. In her back
pasture we mark each ball. . .
It varies, of course, but the repetition gives it a sense of form, as well as a feeling that the speaker (who I, knowing Andrew, cannot help but imagine as Andrew) is childlike in these situations. Or, at least, that Helen Mirren treats the speaker like a child, and the speaker reacts accordingly.
The speaker is passive and inquisitive, and in telling the reader about his experiences with Helen Mirren, he speaks like a child eagerly telling a story. It is playful, and though it is simple, its details are solid.
The repetitive language fleshes out the details without being overwhelmingly descriptive. The experience of reading Helen Mirren Picks Out My Clothes is light and funny, but also a little bit sad. It is quickly enjoyed, but very re-readable.
The book may be obtained from Greying Ghost Press.