It happened one lunch hour, browsing on-line poetry while dropping crumbs on my laptop: I discovered Diane Seuss in “Blackbird” and immediately bought a copy of Wolf Lake, Blouse Blown Open. And oh the pleasure. Her new volume Four–Legged Girl, is every bit as wondrous, if not more so.
Magically, while feasting on this new volume, the great poet Gerald Stern’s magnificent face appeared before me. Family resemblance? Indeed. Jason Wirtz, in Poets on Inventing, says of Seuss: “Using Gerald Stern as an example, she discusses how she has imitated the length of his poems and his non-linear narrativistic turns.”
Her work in no way feels imitative; they are kindred spirits. Stern and Seuss have access to that sacred place high in the ozone where experience, deep feeling, memory, love and killer metaphors hover. Both are lyrical storytellers. Seuss says, in an interview with Geosi Gysi, “ Loss has been my subject since I was a very young child.” Perhaps loss is Gerry Stern’s subject as well. Loss and it’s cheery B-side, laughter.
It is not surprising then that Stern chose Seuss’s poem “Either everything is sexual or nothing is. Take this flock of poppies “ as the National Winner of the Cape Cod Cultural Center’s 2011 National and Regional Poetry Competition. How could he resist! It is a sumptuous piece with supersaturated imagery; an absolute delight. The first two stanzas:
smoke-green stems brandishing buds the size of green plums, swathed
in a testicular fur. Even those costumed in the burlesque of red crepe
petals have cocks under their skirts, powdered with indigo-black pollen,
staining everything they touch. Either the whole world is New Orleans
at 3 a.m. and a saxophone like a drill bit or it’s all clinical sunlight and sad
elementary school architecture, circa 1962, no broom closets opening into escape [hatches]
Seuss can be really funny, as in the mischievous “Laundromat hit by Tornado”, showcasing her virtuosity. Has anyone tried the write-off-a-bizarre-headline writing prompt?
The bride died. The girl in love
with milkweed pods and god
died laundering her sunbonnet.
The baby born into the hands
of fog and nuns who falsely
claimed she was Chinese died.
She was not Chinese, three dogs
sparring over a stolen bone died.
Young wife died up to her nipples
in dirty diapers. Widow died
bleaching her dead husband’s
shirts for donation.
And from “Do you remember that spring? The breeze smelled like cake mix”:
And something in the air of sodomy. Maybe it was the spirea,
which reeks of spermatozoa and Pine-Sol. Don’t you miss those days,
the open-mouthed kisses, lips swollen as deer twats in the springtime?
We lived a life of smutty angst and reckless kleptomania at the eye-shadow emporium.
Still pretending to be girls, and hetero, wearing lacy knickers and shit kickers.
We were, relatively speaking, housewives.
Haute cuisine was Bisquick pizza and lychee martinis.
Threw the dirty dishes out the back door into the rhubarb patch.
I love what she does with clothes. Some random lines:
“her rayon sweater soaked in beer”
“It was strange to watch my own / dresses and blouses swaying on the line. As if I’d been skinned alive.”
“and one of us is naked under a gold / skirt safety pinned at the waist and the material melts in the rain”
“I wore a white, gauzy dress with laces at the bodice”.
And two poems, “ I can’t stop thinking of that New York skirt, turquoise sequins glued onto sea-colored cotton” and the wildly exuberant “My pants are disintegrating, Yes,”. A few lines:
In one day, holes. Old hungers, yawning griefs.
Split incisions. Indecisions. Those pants, sunset
tiger striping the sky. The pink so domestic,
like girl-curtains, a canopy bed.
Seuss animates. Objects come alive, like toys springing from a chest when darkness comes. From the prose poem, “iii. The umbrella was the hub,”:
and the hub of the umbrella was the pole around which the cleats and skeleton ribs spun. From the hub arose many begettings. The peony was begotten, the woody stem echoing the umbrella pole, topped by the beguiling trivialities of petals, and the peony begat the Heartland Peony Society, which begat culture.
And later in the poem:
The lie begat love begat sex begat rabbits that lurked beneath the protective leaves of wild mandrake during rainstorms which begat the maypole, a hub with ribbons, and girls.
Animism is alive here: “the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena and the universe itself possess souls,” and Imagism, as in “It wasn’t love, but love’s template”:
The face of dawn, secreted beneath a gold mask.
Purple-furred dusk lifted its leg and marked the oily streets.
Skyscrapers scraped the sky until it beaded blood.
Silver light seeped through the needlemarks punched in heaven’s sheath.
H.D. and Amy Lowell in the sacred ozone nod, yes.
Before you read the long poem “ iii. Lush”, Listen to Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” if it isn’t already burning inside your brain. I suggest Ella Fitzgerald, with Duke Ellington on piano. (You tube.) The poem begins “ I can’t listen to music, especially Lush Life “ but before long she’s quoting and riffing and here’s that doomed lover who always shows up. The narrator’s obsession? From a ghostly duet with Strayhorn to a long lonely solo, Seuss stretches out. How easy improvisation looks when it really isn’t; when it flows from the pen of a fabulous poet.