What Is Neoteny?
A lively and imaginative debut, Neoteny explores blindness, family, and birdsong. In these poems, Emily K. Michael meditates on literary and personal heroes like Jo March, her beloved grandmother, and her guide dog. This collection is rich with treasures from childhood — the honey-colored piano Michael played, the fig tree in her front yard and the trays of fresh mint drying on her grandmother’s table. The poems move between a child mind and an adult’s perspective as Michael contemplates the rich emotional power of commonplace objects and the way her own blindness complicates everyday situations. Poems like “In This One” and “I Say Yes” take the reader into the domestic moments of young romance while “Deficiencies,” and “Wood Thrush” invite readers to disappear in wonder for the wild world.
A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Michael weaves local sounds and spaces into her work. “Anniversary in St. Augustine” is the story of a couple’s private tour of historical landmarks, while “Ajeen” captures the quiet of a deserted street deep in hurricane season. “Trading Threes” and “Encore” welcome local birds onto the page as Michael immortalizes the sounds of mockingbirds and cardinals.
Though Neoteny is an uplifting collection, Michael confesses the difficulties she experiences as a blind poet in a sighted world. In “Small Hours,” she asks readers to wonder just how important their vision really is, and in “Blindness Locked Me Out,” she catalogues the situations where her disaiblity relegated her to the sidelines. “Natural Compliance” maps the challenge of exploring the wilderness with a white cane and wheelchair. And “A Phenomenology of Blindness” is Michael’s resounding answer to the common questions about how blindness works. To those who think Michael is seeking a cure, she offers “Faith,” a poem that examines how healing really works.
Neoteny also pays tribute to the poets Michael loves. “Practice” is Michael’s nod to CD Wright’s “Lake Echo, Dear” and “Antiphon for Emily” is her song for Emily Dickinson. Neoteny opens on “I Begin to Understand Jo March,” a finalist for the 2018 Atlantis Award. The final poem is “Cello,” first published in Artemis Journal and later included in Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital’s Poems in the Waiting Room. Poems from this collection have also appeared in Wordgathering, Nine Mile Magazine, The Fem, Saw Palm, The Deaf Poets Society, Rogue Agent, and The South Carolina Review.
What Poets Are Saying about Neoteny:
Neoteny is a remarkable chapbook of ars poeticas, Blind pride and love poems. One poem has me thinking of Edna St. Vincent Millay; another of John Milton. This is an impressive debut.Jillian Weise, The Book of Goodbyes
Robert Frost said We love the things we love for what they are. The poems in Neoteny are steeped in the richness of the true. In this way each poem is a love poem to occasions, intimates, strangers, animals and streets. If poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen Emily Michael’s poems are canvases.Stephen Kuusisto, Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey
Emily K. Michael’s poems are, to borrow her own phrase, ‘Spoken with brave sweetness.’ Refreshingly lyrical and non-didactic, her work represents a new voice in disability writing, one that is addressed to friends and loved ones rather than to an anonymous and hostile public. This collection creates an intimate space in which insiders and outsiders alike can feel at home.John Lee Clark, Where I Stand
Neoteny weaves together a Dickensonian garden of sensual details. But this collection is more than a biosphere of pleasure. The blind body is centered in many poems, as is Michael’s frustration when blindness is not “convenient’ or ‘popular.’ Where other political poets get loud, Michael gets soft, and where other political poems explode, these poems smolder. A vital magic occurs when Michael folds the bloom of young romance into the intimacy of care and care-taking that people with disabilities do for each other. This collection has a quiet intense power. The poems will sneak up on you. They don’t shout.Jill Khoury, Suites for the Modern Dancer
Stephen Kuusisto reviewed Neoteny for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature.