EILEEN TABIOS Engages
STATE OF THE UNION by Susan Lewis
(Spuyten Duyvil, Brooklyn, New York, 2013)
One of my favorite ways of poetry-writing is one that relies on propulsion as generated by the word or words. Often, the poet doesn’t start out with a particular idea in mind. But the poet starts out with one word or few words. That word or phrase evokes and/or generates the next word(s) and each addition of a word evokes and/or generates the next words. The first draft (or last draft) is often written in one sitting because the poet wants to ride the energy, if you will, coming from the words.
I don’t know how Susan Lewis wrote the poems in her collection, STATE OF THE UNION, but the mostly one-paragraph prose poems give forth this impression of having been written in this manner. Indeed, the titles may serve the role of the generative first word or phrase for the rest of the poem. So I’ll continue this engagement as if she did write the above manner (or something very similar); if she didn’t write in this manner, then feel free to ignore this review or read it from the perspective of what it may signify if she had written as such.
So. One interesting issue about writing poems in this manner is that something about the author surfaces—an ironic effect because presumably the author had no particular intention at the time of beginning the poem; she only had a word (or phrase). The title does imply that Lewis may have a macro interest in addressing marriage or unions including nation as union, but the specific manifestations of each poem still depend on textual propulsion. In this rapid, stream-of-consciousness type of state, the narrative elements that surface as the poet writes the poem will show something about the poet—her interests, her knowledge, her lack of knowledge, her predilections, her strengths, her weaknesses, etc. For while the poet’s “I” was in service to text-ual vibration and energy, the poet can really write only what she knows as there’s no time to do anything else (e.g., exercise imagination) during the process.
What these poems show, among other things, are wit, a highly-attuned sense of rhythm, probably wide reading, a philosophical bent, and a sense of humor (often revealed through puns). The all of it combine to create poems pleasing to the receptive reader. For an example, I’m going to open the book at random to share:
WHAT I NEED TO BE DOING
is what I need to be doing. This is what.Or the sun will move away & die. As indeed it must. As indeed we all. Now & later. Or abandon ignorance. Entropy engaged, diving to the heart of darkness (or revisit, to the swell of strings). Bowled over, loathe to swallow as a near miss of manifest destiny. Sickening, + painting like dogs. Too innocent to sample the scent of children, beautiful and cruel. That + women with hard eyes & soft skin. Feathered, like velvet. While you slip and slide, devious device-glued. Blinded to these trees, flowering their hearts out. Pistil & stamen, ripe & swollen, straining towards union. Thumbs sans feel for the nerve-tipped & the unlabeled. 98.6 in the proverbial shade. Animate shadows with old hands & young walks, haunting the rough path, needing what no one means to give.
See/hear what I mean? The punchiness. The range despite the limited “scale” of one paragraph. And for this particular example, a certain sensuousness.
Another way to show the collection’s strengths is to excerpt a few titles plus opening lines. I believe this will show the strength of the energy propelling the poems forward:
in the flesh & other fancies of emergence.
LIKE THE PHILOSOPHER SAID,
it’s all false induction, til it isn’t.
THIS IS NOT A MOVIE
But now & then it feels like one, & often has the same symptoms.
THIS TIME I PROMISE
not to seem responsible.
As you read the above, don’t you become curious about the rest of each poem? If so, that right there shows the strength of what makes up this collection.
Note, too, how, in the first three excerpts above, Lewis’ wise use of “&” instead of “and” and “til” instead of “until” helps facilitate the forward momentum.
There’s a lot of meat in this slim grouping of 25 short poems. You will feel full and full of energy upon finishing them, especially if you read them all in one sitting. Recommended.
Eileen Tabios recently released an experimental auto-biography, AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY, as well as her first poetry collection published in 2015, I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS. Forthcoming later this year is INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. Her poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Joey Madia in New Mystics Review and Zvi Sesling in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com