By Irène Mathieu
An exploration of what we inherit or pass on, illuminating the gray area between ubiquitous human desires and overconsumption.
Publication Date: June 13, 2023
Irène Mathieu’s third collection, milk tongue, refers to the layer of milk that coats a baby’s tongue, which often is a challenge to distinguish from thrush, the overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast. As poet and pediatrician, Mathieu explores how we diagnose and investigate where normal consumption and overconsumption meet. How do we learn what to desire? What happens when what we want is destructive to our world? How might we reconceive of (be)longing in a way that rejects overconsumption?
These poems suggest, “what if, more than place, it’s about sound?” In milk tongue Mathieu uses haibun, long poems, and experimental forms to explore what we inherit or pass on – privilege, oppression, anxiety, “hypnagogic conjure,” and a warming earth – and envisage how, through deep attention to the emotional vibrations under the surface of these phenomena, we might become “both human and an / animal worthy of this speck of dust.”
Irène P. Mathieu (she/her) is an academic pediatrician, writer, and public health researcher. She is author of Grand Marronage (Switchback Books, 2019), which won Editor's Choice for the Gatewood Prize and runner-up for the Cave Canem/Northwestern Prize; orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017), which won the Bob Kaufman Book Prize; and the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press & studio, 2014). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Narrative, Boston Review, Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Review, Callaloo, Foundry, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. Irène has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Irène is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Assistant Co-Director of the Program in Health Humanities at the University of Virginia. For more information please visit irenemathieu.com.
"Playful with form, ranging from traditional Japanese haibun style to more experimental forms, Mathieu remains attentive to the physical space of the page, and committed to examining what it means to be human in the wild, in the world, as we experience climate collapse and other crises amidst the distinct pleasures and routines of being alive." —Sarah Lawson, C-Ville
"Irène Mathieu is a capacious poet. She transforms the body of the world and the world of our bodies into an ease we all seek and need. Her doctor soul is tender. Her exacting heart is filled with love." —Fady Joudah, author of Tethered to Stars
“‘Everything is made of something else’ writes Irène Mathieu, whose voice in milk tongue is, as always, just by the ear, whispering songs for the future, made of the past." —Leah Naomi Greene, author of The More Extravagant Feast