Danielle Cadena Deulen has assembled a collection that deftly maneuvers through dew-formed natural worlds, myths, and histories gone wrong to create a poetry collection that I found hypnotic and, at times, laced with violence and impending doom.
It was John Berger who said “poetry can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates … by its continual labor of reassembling what has been scattered.” Danielle Cadena Deulen has assembled a collection that deftly maneuvers through dew-formed natural worlds, myths, and histories gone wrong to create a poetry collection that I found hypnotic and, at times, laced with violence and impending doom. At times the poems in Lovely Asunder seem to expand upon myths, sew up narratives, and redefine what we know of the world. Unlike some collections that you can take or leave, this collection seems to soar—she’s a poet who seems to have gone to school with the musicians and philosophers.
I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve found a truly great poet when I feel as though I’ve not only been given a better telescope, but also my very own astronomer to guide me through what I’m seeing of the universe. Deulen is a very good guide, bringing us close to her reverie, allowing us to see what has been scattered and how she intends on defying that space of separation that Berger spoke of.
Deulen is at once sharp-tongued and a poet marked by the fantastic, though many of her poems seem to be anchored in reality. I especially loved the lost letters sequence of poems in Section Two of this collection, which read like a treasure trove of memory and regrets. Deulen seems to be asking why is it that we reveal what’s revealed while letting our chests fill with questions that should be asked and signs that ought to have been heeded.
Take this excerpt from the poem “Lost Letter IV”:
The lake in the landscape of our past was all
Fog—we walked along it, our faces obscured,
Our conversations cold-pressed, virgin olives
How do you pull yourself away from such language? Why would you want to? These letters punctuate the second section, providing known islands between other poems. As I was reading this collection I realized that one of the qualities I like so much about her work is that it’s never boring, which, let’s face it, much poetry is, and which turns a lot of people away from poetry. Speaking of fiction, the Roman poet Horace advised writers to begin in the middle of things—and so did Chekhov who took it a step farther and insisted writers tear up the first three pages of what they had written. Deulen’s work has the feeling of starting in the middle, as if she were a trained novelist, understanding exactly what she needed to do for readers to understand, care, and turn the page.
All poems move to the virtuosic penultimate poem “Prodigal Daughter.” This poem felt like it should be the last in the collection to me. The poem wove so much of the overarching philosophy, questions, and drama into one poem that it felt like an answer in a land where no answers had been given. Take this line:
I return with the letters I didn’t send and a bottle of Oaxacan sand
This immediately reminded me of the lost letters that I had read in Section Two. By the time I reached the end of the collection I felt as though I had danced some untold, but necessary, dance. Two lines from her poem “Pomegranate” seemed to contain what I was feeling:
And up into the dark, looking for exit,
The flame has burned down the wick
It’s true–the collection never strayed too far from its title. Every poem was created on a foundation of ruin, but there is also a quiet mission that Deulen seems to be following. The re-ordering of the mythic allows her to locate the poetic possibility in even the worst kind of tragic fate and shape what is emotionally true into works of art. It’s well known that for art to live in the hearts and minds of others, it takes a certain amount of careful attention on the part of the artist. It necessitates a transforming of the real into a new conception. Deulen’s book of poems is both startling and familiar: her poems echo loss, defamiliarize myths, and stare down desire creating a book that absorbs you and sets the redefined universe aflame. It’s a way of looking at the world that I’ll likely return to again and again.