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The Sleeping is a book of 48 excellent, well-crafted poems. There are no toss-away poems

here. Each one is a special jewel, each one sparkles with some insight, some special or

surprising turn of phrase that one wishes one had thought of it.



Books by Caroline Maun


The Sleeping / Virtual Identities: The Construction of Selves in Cyberspace


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ChickenBones Poetry Book for 2006

There are no toss-away poems here


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The Sleeping

Poems by Caroline Maun

Reviewed by Rudolph Lewis


Professionally, I've known Caroline Maun for several years; maybe five years, as long as there has been a ChickenBones. The first poem she shared with me and that I posted on our website is Faceless, a poem about a lynching, inspired by a postcard. It was a good poem, well executed with the right sympathy and perspective, the right tragic irony. I did not think much of her outside of that. I knew she was a professor at Morgan State University (MSU). I saw her numerous times at conferences sponsored by literary societies based at MSU. And I saw her more frequently when I became a member of Mid-Atlantic Writers Association (MAWA). I had lunch with her once in Charles Village at an outside cafe when she was planning a website for MAWA. At that time, I believe she was also up for tenure; she had been at Morgan for almost six years (1998-2004).


My overall impression was that she was an extremely intelligent, hardworking intellectual, also a computer wiz and software expert, willing to do all the grunt work, in a rather invisible capacity. For many she was a white professional female in a black department at a black university, in a black city. I was not too surprised when I heard she had left Morgan for Wayne State University. I was very happy for her. I did not think that Morgan was for her, deserving of her. It had too much bullshit with it. She could look for only more abuse and neglect. I was certain that Morgan would miss her more than she would miss Morgan.


I was indeed surprised, and pleasantly so, to discover that Caroline was a poet. For everyone who writes a poem is not a poet. When she told me she was getting a book of poems published and then I received The Sleeping and read it, I was stunned. My God, how brilliant! How could I have not known, as many at Morgan, that we were all in the midst of such a wonderful poet, not just someone who ran a writing center and did all the necessary work needed by MAWA. In some sense the book represents her liberation from a "sleeping."


So I am elated that she counts me among one of her friends and that she still does all she can to support enthusiastically our work with ChickenBones. I feel more than just the fondness of a colleague, I feel privileged to be in the company of in contact with a sensitive and insightful genius who is in possession of wisdom and a mastery of words that speak truths to hearts about a common struggling humanity.


The Sleeping is a book of 48 excellent, well-crafted poems. There are no toss-away poems here. Each one is a special jewel, each one sparkles with some insight, some special or surprising turn of phrase that one wishes one had thought of it. I've just finished my second reading (pen in hand) and I am more impressed than on my first reading. There is so much one would like to steal. And though it has a feminine perspective, it goes beyond that, for it speaks to our common struggle with self, our bodies, and our places in the world.


I tend to be impulsive in my likes and dislikes. In this case, my second reading revealed even more convincingly I was not mistaken this time that I had indeed experienced (discovered) something wondrous in my first reading of Caroline Maun's The Sleeping. Maybe the key aspect of the work that appeals to my sensibility is that all the poems are about struggle, the human soul struggling for its own liberation, to be free of the numerous chains that bind us from the day we are born until the day we pass on.


In this sense, the central sensibility in these poems is that which is heroic, a promethean spirit, not so much against the gods above us, but the common humanity that surrounds us, that is in us, that is, a humanity that struggles with its self, to be greater than those momentary selves. This struggle does not take place in an imaginary world but the one in which we all have to live. Thus the poems are concrete, relating to lived experiences. This struggle provides all the poems with an energy and sharpness that thrill and enliven the reader. The manner in which she the poet deals with these conflicts (these chains that bind us) is the source of the brilliance the light in which infuses these poems.


The book opens with the poem "Framed," which concerns itself with "images/images of images." These poems are very visual. They have much to do with seeing, especially how one sees oneself, and sees one's self through the eyes of others. The superficial (the shell of ourselves) deceives, distorts, disappoints, hurts. The metaphor used in her own art is the photograph, the painting, the mirror, art itself. There are a number of poems in The Sleeping that render this dilemma. But "Girl Before a Mirror" might be the most poignant:



Girl Before a Mirror

We have here the dual difficulty

of a crisis of self

and a crisis of meaning.

The divided self

can't see inward or outward.

The artist's eye shows us

the woman


Part of her

looks at us

and another part of her

looks at us

but the symmetry

we understand as beauty

has been ruptured.

Psychedelic halo,

even the wallpaper flames.

She embraces the mirror

or fights it.

Her body struggles with gravity

one heavy bulb at a time,

the naked absurdity

of obsession.

The mirror (imagination, art) as metaphor is used again in one of her five or so "Lovegrove" poems, writings about a place she lived in Baltimore, destroyed by fire. The topic in "Lovegrove through the Looking Glass" is the duality of love vs. lust and the deception and disappointment of both by means of their superficiality, their sentimentality. Though it rivals in poignancy the poem above, its sensuality sets it apart. One should also note here the poet's skillful handling of rhymes of alternating lines.



Lovegrove through the Looking Glass

It's an old mirror mirror on the wall

resolutely reflecting a scrap of the sun

speckled like interference with the signal

it undulates the image and makes fun.

I stand before it naked in the moonlight

dark hands from behind raise my breasts

I see the smile bleached bone bright

tongue licks lips before he feasts.

Look at us look at us

framed in flaking gold and rust

interposing susurrus

of shallow breath and fecund lust.

My favorite among these poems dealing with the superficial and the sentimental is "Traveling as Lightly as Possible." Its beauty is stunning set against rejection of the uncertain duality of love and lust, of marriage and commitment. She is not harsh in her response. The poet represents an emotive defense of the inner self against farther external encroachment:



Traveling as Lightly as Possible

When the speaker's voice has faded

and only a few are left in the room

he approaches me with private gratitude

and the arrangement.

They are yellow marguerites

blush roses nested in fern

baby's breath haloes.

On the table they represent the light of the day

but as he approaches I see them

changing. Suddenly I am a bride

with bones for a smile

as I reach out to grasp my bouquet of dust.

I can't hold on.

After years of struggle

I want only to travel lightly.

He doesn't see how heavy the flowers have become

how they have already signified the whole cycle.

His feelings, simple as the marguerite

and as precious,

are crushed under the weight

of my tired thoughts.

The poet's struggle against the weight of the symbolism of tradition is also represented in the poem "The Perennial Dilemma of the Other Woman": "The ideal handed down: / once mated, we will not part until death." And she adds in her response to this "symbolism and narrative" -- "I have never met a woman / who was immune to its influence."


The superficiality of today's relationships is farther explored in the use of information technologies. In the poem "On the Difficulty of Every Day," the poet writes about talking on computers "when we lived in the same house / before we divorced. . . . When I asked him / Why can't we just talk face to face? / Neither one of us could answer." And then there is the poem "Online Dating." It is a means of "amending the truth about ourselves." The poet concludes on this "strangest" of relationships: "The ultimate symptom of a disposable culture / is the reduction of love / to the syntax of search engines."


The struggle is not only with deceit and disappointment, the superficial and the sentimental but also with loss, not only lost love. In the poem "The Sleeping" it is the loss of control, the potential loss of self. Note here too the skillful handling of rhyme, so much so that it is almost unnoted by the ear because sense rules rather than sound:



The Sleeping

I have been in the place of the vole

who, still alive, sleeps within the wolf's jaws.

I have spent a few hours in the hole

and struggled with men's laws.

A caress that struck like a blow

stunned me as it broke

across my face. Blood, a flow

poured from my numb mouth as I choked.

If given a second chance I'd have said;

you've take nothing from me of importance

even if you leave me dead.

And given a second chance

I'd shoot you where you stand.

Not as recompense

or even as reprimand

or because it would make more sense.

I would do it because I was robbed

of the possibility to act

as I fell on my arms and sobbed

and waited, and lacked.

What I like here most is the spirit of defiance, the consciousness of the victim's own weakness in times of crisis. In "Affirmations" there's a loss that goes beyond what words can denote: "The phone will ring / and your voice will fall / a bit lower to tell me / what word's can't say."


The "Lovegrove" poems probably most represent loss because they concretize the loss of place, of one's home, a place of memories and desire and love. In some sense the loss of the physical place is a metaphor. It is a place where "lies undermine truth." Love like "this building has sustained fire damage." So much so that "Outside the world is shrouded in fog / but it is a blindness that brings warmth." In "Lovegrove: For Sale," the poet writes: "The heat from the fire was too intense / it undermined the foundation." She sees "two ghostly shapes at the table / wrapped in shimmering warmth and light / sipping love from cups."


And, finally, in "The Visit," in yet another return to Lovegrove: "I recall with every threaded nerve / the triumphs and struggles here / but I can't be here anymore." Then there is an interlude of poems that deal with the social world. There is "Colors" that deals with neighbors: an interchange of two drunks with a couple from Sierra Leone. This is a struggle to deal with the ignorance of others. And then there is the "Faceless" poem: a struggle with racial brutality and insensitivity. And then the poem "On the Non-Triviality of Aileen Wuornos": to which the poets writes: "She nevertheless retains something / akin to the dignity. She was still a person / however loosely constructed." This interlude of social pathologies concludes with the poem "Baltimore Whores." While on her way to a wedding, as a guest, she comes to a stop light on North Avenue and observes "a tableau of city life." 


Before a number of what might be called "medical" poems, there is short nature poem "Sweet Corn," which deals with growth or the lack of growth of the roots of the plant: "They were circumscribed by a small cylinder of soil / and exceeding that, began to fail."


"The Flowering" is the first of the medical poems. "There is something dark on my breast / The nipple liberates a drop of blood." But the poem is also about the struggle to start anew: "I am half here and half there / wondering how I should live." "Loose Ends" deals with the discomfort of the "fissures" (a disease) of the skin and the accompanying pain: "This skin isn't a shell." This thin whiteness of her skin is not a badge of honor, or even a privilege, but rather a condition in which "The invaginations / are evidence of some past moment / of carelessness or of passion. / A scarlet letter / branded on this skin."


There are two more of these medical poems. "Mammomat" represents the struggle against objectification: "I place my breast on it / like so much meat / ready to be sliced." Then there is "Ultrasound," which describes a medical check of the ovaries: "She says / Yours is pretty / Press here with your fingers to push your ovary down so / I can get it onscreen." And she notes as she gets down from the examination table: "I've left something of myself / a moist red text on the white paper." Then there's the poem "Organization," which deals with the struggle of indecision and, in effect, is a break before a set of poems dealing with family: "The agonizing choice / of what goes where."


The poems of family and family life (about seven) too deal with loss and a struggle to come to grips with that loss. The first of these is "Emergence," which focuses on the poet's relationship with her mother and a crisis concerning the house in which she lives: "For the first time in decades / I spend long days with her / trying to reclaim her space from nature / These are also good conditions / for the emergence of what I can't yet grasp." Time and experience have brought new insight, a new understanding and appreciation: "From the ruin of time and nature / something beautiful emerges. / I know the words to name it will come, / given time."


There are two other poems that delve into the poet's relationship with her mother. "Lost" involves her mother's attempt to forget: "Her voice was drifting / as she unraveled on the other end." "Ruin" involves moving, her mother: "Mother's things, caked with mold / one by one / were sorted." But also a remembrance of her father: On one page, in father's crooked hand, / all corners and lines, / each letter a statement, / a word all by itself / hanging as a question: // Happiness?" The long poem "Dominia" (two pages) concerns the poet's relationship with her father: "He was 55 before he met my mother / and 67 when I arrived."


There is the struggle with memory: "We remember moments, not days / but there were many moments"; the struggle with not knowing: "What I don't know about this man is vast; / what I do know is taken / from these fragmentary moments." This lack of knowledge is complemented by dreams: "Twenty years later I dream about him still." And the poem concludes: "There is no time / for conversations, for knowing. / I live in these dreams with the tense / expectant absence of him." The final poem related to the poet's relationship with her father is "The Banality of Hallucination." It represents a more negative aspect of her father: "The energy that my father turned inward, / I realized later, was what he had to expend / to keep from killing us all while we slept." These lines suggest a lack/loss of affection, but hidden and rediscovered.


The last three poems of The Sleeping deal with childhood, which too deal with a loss, the loss of beauty and innocence. In "Wildflower," she writes, "If only there were a field guide / for the lost flowers of the soul / So much falls through one's hands / like broken stamens and pistils." In "Detour," the poet revisits the ancient family home in Pennsylvania: "Twenty-five years at least since I had been here. / He showed this place to me / before I knew how to drive." The poem concludes: "I came toward the door / and saw something I never expected to see / had no recollection of: / in childish yet deliberate script / on one slab of stone near the entrance / were the names of my father and his brothers."


The last poem "Doll House" is a revisit to the Florida home of her childhood and she discover the "dollhouse / as I had left it." And the poem concludes: "I didn't come there to see this. / I couldn't say why I had come. / This universe, so intimate, / unexpectedly persisted." Even with the tragic loss, the poet rediscovers and in some sense overcomes the loss by a kind of refraining that occurs through her own growth and revelation. In some sense that is what art does, that is, discovers, more precisely, recovers that which has been lost.


The Sleeping, Caroline Maun's first book of poetry is one I wish were encased in hardback because it is so special and deserves a special place on every bookshelf.


See also: The Detroiter



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Sun Out of Water




Cicadas as Parable


The Fall That Never Arrived


Just Walking the Dogs


Girl Before a Mirror


Practice Kisses




On the Difficulty of Every Day


Online Dating


Traveling as Lightly as Possible


The Perennial Dilemma of the Other Woman


The Sleeping


Sexual Geographics




When Things Matter


The Emptiness of Non-poetry




The Poet as Confidence Man


The Muse as Crone






That Place




Lovegrove Through the Looking Glass


Lovegrove: Removal


Lovegrove: For Sale


Lovegrove Revisited


The Visit






On the Non-Triviality of Aileen Wuornos


Baltimore's Whores


Sweet Corn


The Flowering


Loose Ends
















The Banality of Hallucination




The Detour


The Doll House


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The Sleeping was published by Marick Press

posted 13 June 2006

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Dr. Caroline Maun

Assistant Professor / Interdisciplinary Studies / Wayne State University / 5700 Cass Ave. / Detroit, MI 48202 / 313-577-6580 / email:


·  Ph. D. in English, 1998. University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

·  M.A. in English, 1992. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.

·  B.A. in English with high honors, 1990.Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida.


·  PIER Certificate in African Studies, Yale University, 2001.


Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

Assistant Professor of Literacy and Critical Thought, 8/04 to present. Teaching interdisciplinary courses in writing and oral communication.

Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland

·  Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition, 7/99 to 5/04.  Teaching Freshman Composition sections face-to-face and online. Co-Coordinator of the Freshman English Program. Member of the Honors Program faculty (three-year appointment from 2002-2005).

·  Director, English Resource Writing Center, 11/98 to 5/04.  Supervising student employees, managing grant monies, faculty liaison with computer support services.

·  HUD-EDI Special Projects Grant Co-Recipient, with Dr. Wendell Jackson, 11/98 to 9/99 (period of grant). Funds in excess of $79,000 earmarked to improve the English Resource Writing Center at Morgan State University: designing lab, training tutors, instructional technologist, and curriculum design. Internal Morgan State University grant of $50,000 was also implemented for equipment.

·  Lecturer, 8/98 to 5/99. Teaching Freshman Studies English composition.

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

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In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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