EVERYWHERE IN BETWEEN
First book puts Maggie Dietz in storied company
Review: Perennial Fall
By Maggie Dietz
University of Chicago Press, 2006
aggie Dietz is that rare poet who "arrived" even before her first book was published.
"Arrived" to the point where an important literary figure was quoted in a national magazine, listing "talking to Maggie Dietz" as a favorite activity. "Arrived" as a fellow/writer-in-residence at Phillips Exeter Academy, as a lecturer at Boston University and as co-editor of a major poetry anthology.
What's more is her status was warranted by her poetry which, appearing in literary magazines, more than hinted at jaw-dropping promise. When I read "Bright Lament." I jotted her name in the margin of a notebook.
... here in the half-life
Of morning, I read that death
Undid another come undone,
A girl who the note she left said
I am tired. Already tired
And twelve years old and gone.
hen I read, "Perpetual Between" in Salmagundi, I dispatched a letter to the editors gushing that this was important work ... still knowing nothing about Dietz beyond those Maggie Dietz
So Perennial Fall was atop a very short list of must-haves even before it was published. This year, 2006, also saw the publication of a very strong collection of poems, Averno which all but prompted this reviewer to question whether we actually needed any more poets beyond its author, Louise Gluck. Not surprisingly, Gluck's poems, such as "Circe's Lament," have have tended to stand out from similar contexts.
Perennial Fall is up to this standard. In fact, will venture to say that while Averno is the 2006 work of the current U.S. Poet Laureate, Perennial Fall represents the 2006 publication of a
successor. While I've sort of set out to find the diamond in the rough, rather than in the academic press, a gem is a gem.
One can easily agree with New York Times reviewer David Kirby that a poet truly being "down to earth" on nature is a refreshing development ...
the trees are tired
of meaning, sick of providing
mystery, parallels, consolation.
And YES! I wish I'd said that.
ietz has this whispering morbidity that almost sounds, well, British:
When did this body grow into this bed?
This kind of phrasing doses such ambitious poems as "Speaking for Andrew," in which the titled deceased, A.G., becomes (to put it in pedestrian terms) to her what Syd Barrett was to the later Pink Floyd. Dietz uses the poet's stance as the Celtic Witta tradition prescribes projecting one's self to gain the vision of the hawk or other animal, or to gain the properties of a stone or tree. "Speaking for Andrew" certainly have that acid-trip agape moment of revelation:
... My opening. And through it rang a chorus of every voice
that ever was. I heard them each and all and in that moment
knew, for just a moment, what it means to love and suffer,
please believe me, what it is to die and lie.
ietz uses subtle humor to diffuse a pervading awareness of nature and spirituality: Through the course of a day, the sun moves laboriously, not as God, but "God's ox." She gives us, "the river dragged its heels." Still, there are enough hints at the sensibility of imagism without its boundaries. Her speaker commands nature in the manner of H.D.:
Perennial fall, come cool the cliffs,
bring quiet, sulfur, early dark.
Represent as you must: dusk, dying, ends
and row us into winter's water ...
Indeed, her "Colleen in Sonoma," is Dietz's "Helen," albeit a Helen with cow shit on her shoes for whom
The stars over the fenced yard were
often asterisks, marking exceptions.
In other words, a Helen ... compromised. A "real" woman persona, not a mythological archetype. This subtly deconstructive approach to the methodology of H.D. is fervently postmodern but it's very subtle, very appealing, very ... classy. This also affords Dietz some accessibility. It may be a road not taken ... but we can at least see what she likes.
n his New York Times review, Kirby expressed a lack of enthusiasm for poems in the collection lacking such "smart-mouth" comment, the works he calls "metaphysical" poems.
"Perpetual Between" is one of those poems.
... The instrument
a hinge. The mood hinged upon
the song. The song a hinge. And you
and I -- o metaphysicians -- hinges.
Certainly some time after we learned to say (as metaphysians) that "everything is relative"; we learned also that one thing is always becoming another, that we are in the process of becoming. We began, also, to "mind the gap," as posted warnings alert London underground passengers of the gap between the platform and the train. In metaphysics, the space between is to be considered as well as the object.
Postmodern poetry expresses this consciousness in terms of what has been identified as anti-closural elements. Some poets and scholars are finding now that this approach is dated ... that, as Ewa Chrusciel of Spoon River Poetry Review pointed out to me, "we find that we need to put something back" if we take something out.
There is something more than metaphysics going on in Dietz's poem. She seems to be intuitively aware that that postmodern poetry has been largely built on these "anti-closural" elements and with "Perpetual Between," she seems to put a lid on it, summing up that whole approach to poetry in a dozen sparse lines ending -- of course -- with an anti-closural element, a something that always leads to another:
... The moment opens,
closes, opens, closes. The night. The clock.
The thought. The heart. The door. The breath.
Read this poem aloud and you'll get the idea of the "space" an anti-closural element can create. It's drama, of course: As if every waking moment in our lives is drama -- which it is in a sense -- the sense that poetry can show us. So this isn't strictly metaphysical, no; it's a poem about poetry.
This a very hard-edged example from the book, which is generally more personal, more earthy. It does reflect, however, a vibration that extends throughout, and that is an idea about supply. Something which is lost becomes something else. Look carefully at that vacated space:
Good shades, and the rumpled bed
Still open, still unmade.
Seeing, Dietz reminds us, begins when the object is no longer there to be seen. I think, at this particular time in history, her words must resonate with a great many who have lost, and are seeking and discovering.
-- Robert Preuss
Robert Preuss's work appears in the September 2006 issue of The Modern Review. He edits Poets Collective.
"When I let go of the
'realism factor' and
the technical stuff and
painted purely from
emotion, I was
happier with the
results and no longer
-- Darcy Altaville
Writing sparks visual artist's explorations of identity
The Poets Collective interview
work of art represents a promise that our lives do have meaning and that we do not simply represent an advanced form of animal life to be slowly driven crazy in a world gone hopelessly mad.
It's the same conceit implicit in our finest poetry and therefore, it's not so surprising that Darcy Altaville's significant recent artistic output began with keeping a daily journal.
Enchantment can describe only part of this mixed media domain. Altaville's illustrative creations are populated by characters, many (but not all) of whom appear to be protective spirits, angels of a sort drawn metaphorically or contextually out of the expected confines of time and space. LITTLE CRITTERS
Yet the work seems to hold a fascination beyond mere whimsy, inviting the viewer to create new meanings. Perhaps that's because there are layers of syntax: Masks, statuary, mechanical imagery, images forward and receding into space, transparent colors and highly saturated colors, words and combinations of words. The focal point of many of the collages are bygone-era photographs of small children or infants. Most Freudian, in other words. Birds are a subject device in paintings. We are, it seems, looking into a window of the subconscious. Taken together, these suggest -- and suggest is the proper word -- characters and stories while, at the same time, illuminate the meanings of words around them when used as illustration.
In this sense it is almost as what can be gleaned from poems emerges in a more strictly visual realm with a message that is clear and somewhat reassurring: That our lives do have meaning and purpose.
That is, perhaps, too explicit and pointed for a true appreciation of the work. Indeed, if there is a suggestion, it is the one given by the medieval Tarot card of the Hanged Man: An emptying of one's self so that meaning and purpose can fill us. Indeed, such an appreciation is closely akin to the impetus of the work itself. The Manhattan native, who summered in Saratoga County, NY, as a child and took up residence for a time in a Saratoga Springs and now lives in Pike County, PA, had turned to journal writing in a time of loss. That sparked a creative flurry which has become a life work.
Altaville kindly agreed to talk with us upon the launch of poetscollective.com.
Tell us some basics. You have a family ... you're married I know ... and you've relocated (I don't know where) ... has this changed your approach to art or what you're doing with it?
Yes, I'm married to a great man, who is a musician and have three beautiful, creative and talented children.
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Peter O'Leary's poetry of identity
Who are these dummies, these ogres of a past age,
-- H.D. in An End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound
these fearful effigies that wrecked
our world, these devils, these dolls?
aura Riding called for a "braver" poetry which would be less introspective/confessional and more spiritual/universal. Such a trope would be "braver" in the sense of venturing into areas of faith, of the unseen. "Brave" in the sense that scientific proofs and mundane logic do not support the ideas.
This call has not been ignored. Consider the critical statement, "To be any good, poetry must be, in some way, illogical."
There are poets who truly believe that language holds the key to eternity,
who are not at all surprised to learn that early words correspond with synaptic flares in the brain (the "Enoch light" as it has been described). No coincidence, then, that it was language conveying "God-like" powers to the Biblical people of Ur in Babel.
What may be surprising, however, is where the path Riding pointed to has led some poets. This is truly a case of having to get in to get out.
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Poets Collective is a group of people extraordinarily dedicated to the development, publication and promotion of outstanding literature ... poetry, film scripts, plays, fiction and non-fiction.
Contact us via email: Poets Collective.
Maggie Dietz was born and raised in Green Bay, WI, and received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. She earned her Master of Arts in creative writing at Boston University and is currently a lecturer in creative writing at Boston University and assistant poetry editor for Slate. She has been awarded a winter fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, as well as the Grolier Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Agni, Harvard Review, Salmagundi and elsewhere.
For several years, Dietz directed the national Favorite Poem Project, founded by Robert Pinsky during his tenure as US Poet Laureate.