Monday, December 22, 2014

Dorothea Lasky, Rome


All my life
It was a lie
To try to go towards bliss
But death is the ultimate blissfulness
To be a candy or a corpse
The world holds you on its tongue
And no one can save you
Not even your own children or your friends
So have a seat with the home of the dead
They will eat your colors
Until you are blank
The best thing to happen to you
The greatest happiness
To be an animal who is smoke
And beyond the mouth
That tears your bones from one another
To be a mound of meat
At the table of the living

Brooklyn poet Dorothea Lasky’s fourth poetry collection is Rome (New York NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014), following Thunderbird (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Black Life (Wave Books, 2010) [see my review of such here] and AWE (Wave, 2007) [see my review of such here]. In the past, Lasky’s work has been compared to the work of both Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, and the influence of O’Hara’s “I did this, I did that” strain of lyric narrative is unmistakable. Both O’Hara and Ginsberg were also performative sentence-poets, writing out their immediate world as they understood it, and the performance poem-essays that make up Lasky’s Rome is clearly immersed in much of the same approach. Much like Lisa Robertson (but in a more narrative vein) and Lisa Jarnot, Lasky is very much a poet of sentences and stark phrases, allowing them to speak and shout and whisper and silence when appropriate, and even provide the occasional gut-punch. The final stanza of the piece “Poem to Florence,” for example, reads:

There were things I wished I’d said
And done
But it is too late now
So I go
Heavy with my offering
This book, this book

The ten-poem sequence that lends the book its title plays off considerations of the city of Rome, the fictions of real and imagined lives, and a grandness of history against certain disappointments of the contemporary: “Rome is about the Colosseum / Said the cashier in the local market / Where I went with my mother / In the town I grew up in / No longer a young man / But tunneling towards a ferocity / Not anyone could have predicted [.]” Throughout the title poem, as well as sprinkled through the book as a whole, Lasky forces confrontations between classical knowledge and the contemporary, pushing a darker series of tones through romantic ideas and ideals, as well as an exploration of some corners that aren’t often articulated (or so well) in contemporary poetry. As she writes in the poem “Porn”: “I watch porn / Cause I’ll never be in love / Except with you dear reader / Who thinks I surrender [.]” Part of what makes Rome so striking is in the way she writes the intimately personal so deeply dark, as though each line somehow a nail-scratch seeking blood beneath the skin. Listen to the opening stanzas of the poem “Moving,” as she writes:

Yes, I am moving but I am not
I will never see my body dead
In the way I have seen yours

The soul never sleeps
I told you
After you were gone

What was your name
I kept moving on
Until I did not need you anymore

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