Medusa Discovers Styling Gel by Dian Duchin Reed
Finishing Line Press, 2009.
27 pages. $14.
Reviewed by P. Nelson
“Don’t be stupid.”
This might be the prime moral exhortation were it not for the many one word negations, such as “Goebbels”, by all accounts, a very intelligent man. So OK, “let’s not be verbally stupid”; there is never, ever, virtue in that. Possibly the chief value of Poetry is as a kind of reciprocating engine, producing and recycling verbal intelligence, more effectively as container and medium than for any particular content or message, a perpetual notion machine that makes the reader smarter simultaneously with his investment of that intelligence in the poem’s own potentiality for meaning. And so it goes, the most ascendant of Hegel’s Aufhebung, a Convolvulus, and yes, it really is that simple! We pause, dear reader (always assume one reader) for rebuttal and to assert that this unintegrated arabesque is not nearly as detached as it must appear but derives from the work in hand.
Because the poems in Dian Duchin Reed’s’ "Medusa Discovers Styling Gel" are intelligent* (and nothing rebarbative, as when the Brits say “clever”, in the praise), instantiating a verbal alertness where words reflect and refract in arrangements that compose the unified object of many facets.
Can we count on Space? But it was less / than nothing before the Big Bang ./ Even now, confronted by a massive object, / it bends the truth, stretches the facts.//And that trickster Time,/ as dependent on speed as any junkie,/ always relies on someone else’s /perspective, having none of its own.//Perhaps Truth does not exist. Perhaps /the universe is composed of Consequences/ instead. And perhaps Consequences / are the only path to an honest universe./No matter how long it takes, no matter/ how far from the sources, Consequences / will always catch up with us./Then, the Big Bust.( from The Search for Truth).
“Matter” being a pun that matters.
Most of the poems explore an argument that extends, for force and effect, through one long sentence so that redaction does this work a disservice.
Yet every map moves me/from metaphor to mystery//my own town shrunk down/to a dot, all spheres turned to/ a series of concentric circles. //Evenings, the swish and crash/ of sea onshore reminds me/of cymbals, of the hopeless // hope of symbols. I need no flowers, my only rose/the compass rose.//in whose petalled points / I lose myself/to show the better ways. (from “The Mapmaker Muses )
At its best, the writing is vectored in that perfect location of inevitability and surprise, reminiscent of Heather McHugh or at a more distance remove of prose, Donald Barthelme.
Among Reed’s big subjects are fate, loneliness, truth, the Medusa, Epicurus, all sat down and effectively interrogated in a focused light as if she knows what most contemporary poets forget: every poem is guilty, guilty of the gravest crime, Existence, its only possible expiation being the transcript of the transgression, the poem itself. ‘Lucifer’s reaction to his own dizzying/descent, the kind of cosmic crash/that lovers of commotion might/consider dazzling, a work the meek /cache to praise the sun’s daily glissade / to music that’s so subtle, its silent.” /(From Dazzled)
If there is a criticism of Reed’s brilliant successes, it is, as usually the case with persons, along the line of their virtues. There’s a sometimes relentless, working-it-too-hard monotonic quality, though this persistence and pursuit is also, subtextually, a pointing to and moral insistence that in a world exiled from its own best garden where “Fame and her best friend Fortune strut down the street arm in arm with their double dates, Pain and Fear", we must do better, be brighter.
Only an old bold critic (careless of crashing) would prescribe a writer’s next book, suggest that Reed’s further advance might involve a step backwards to the bad poetry badlands of looseness, inexactitude and dreamy relinquishment. But something like that drift is what makes Tennyson deeper than Browning, Coleridge more compelling than Byron, Thomas’ plainsong more plaintive than ... Never mind.
We await the next turn of this author’s poetic karma-dharma wheel.
*[And by "intelligent" one means capacity and capability, verbal mindfulness in its many modes, including the emotive. For the most exhaustive (some say exhausting) study of intelligence as moral moderator, succeeding and failing, see Henry James, The Golden Bowl.]