Sunday, November 12, 2023

Dorothea Lasky, The Shining



I am so excited
I am dancing with my sister
In the front of the restaurant
Two men look at us and smile

We are wearing the clearest blue dresses
That look like the sky in the middle of the spring
There is a pretend antagonism to our song
But we know that we really love each other

Years later they will film us as children
Wearing matching dresses again
But the blue will be muted
Soon after they will show us chopped up

As always they will be obsessed
With the violence men can do to us
But I was only ever trying to do my job
I only ever wanted to be a movie star

The latest from American poet Dorothea Lasky, following her essay-quartet, Animal (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2020) [see my review of such here] is the poetry collection, The Shining (Wave Books, 2023). Riffing off its namesake film, as the press release offers, Lasky’s The Shining “is an ekphrastic horror lyric that shapes an entirely unique feminist psychological landscape. Here, Lasky guides us through the familiar rooms of the Overlook Hotel, both realized and imagined, inhabiting characters and spaces that have been somewhat flattened in Stephen King’s text or Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptations.” Lasky fleshes out the asides to the main action, almost as a dark turn (if one might say) akin to Tom Stoppard’s 1966 play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, or even Steve Englehart’s run through West Coast Avengers #17-24 (1987) that ran alongside and through early Avengers and Fantastic Four histories. Through her usual playful swagger of dark turns, Lasky utilizes the bones of the source material to carve out lyrics sharp enough to draw blood. “I was Dorothea Lasky,” she writes, to close the poem “TIME,” “Now my name is nothing / But I never forgot my name / Did you [.]” Lasky’s poems are dark and complex, writing of innocence revealed and lost, writing slant across a horror lyric. “The key to surviving in here,” she writes, to open the poem “STRANGE HUMOR,” “Is to pretend every room is haunted / Even when it isn’t [.]” Lasky writes from and within spaces King and Kubrick could never hope to fathom, offering a sequence of horrors that exist not purely in the extraordinary but across more familiar spaces. Through Lasky, background characters move from mere decoration to flesh, and to acknowledgment and even, finally, agency. “What is language / Is the question I ask the large peacock,” she writes, as part of the poem “MARRIAGE,” “Who sits at the end of the bed / Smiling the grin of demons / Bending its neck to get a good look at me [.]” It is through Lasky, finally, that these characters are allowed their own stories.

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