perfect dark attracts some love (see earlier review by george wallace here). this is particularly pleasing because it’s the book i’ve put the most work into. susan maurer sent it in hard copy (after i said it was ok for her to do so) & i, not owning a scanner, typed it into a word document before doing my ungovernable thing. anyways, i now pass this space over to george spencer
I love to write reviews of excellent poets who, because of the control of many non-commercial presses by those who continue to fan the dead embers of the lyric and the unwillingness of the commercial book industry to publish lesser known but provocative voices, do not receive the critical attention they deserve. Susan Maurer and her new e/book, published in 2009 by ungovernable press, an ambitious Swedish publisher with an enviable and growing back list, is a perfect example. Called perfect dark, it explores what the ambiguous meaning of the title might be. Night goggles, undressed windows, microscope and spy glass are all in play. Pity the neighbor. Her reach is wide.
The third poem in the collection,TELETUBBIES. AGAIN. DO IT AGAIN. strikes me as an ars poetica and sets the stage for what is to come:
The teletubbies do a kind of conga line.
It looks different in writing.
We are on notice that we are not going to read the usual, that we are going to see “a kind of conga line”. Always careful and sparing in her use of words, Susan Maurer advises us to read cautiously because many words carry extra freight as does “line” in the quote above.
In OCULARIS she is the boss and even though warned that
“You can’t surveille
she goes where she wants and does likewise.
In her best poems there is a sense of breaking through the urban world weariness that confronts us all into another dimension of awareness, if only in poetic time. One of the longer poems in the collection, DREAM ADDICT, does this. In addition to startling verbal pyrotechnics, this is a voyage and, as is the case in much of the most interesting contemporary poetry, the reader is called upon to work at understanding the psychology of this dreamscape as she takes us through it.
Survivor of paradise and the storm.
You have found me out. You found me out.
Wet your beak in my stream.
Those wings are ‘sposed to cool me down.
I’ll dry my tears on your skin
And he’ll nurture me with his dick.
Mr. Kleenex Man. Something sweetgrass.
And later in the same poem:
have told me the facts, but
they haven’t told me the truth.
And the final lines are, as much as is possible in a post-industrial, consumer society, a resolution:
Sleep is a sickness which must be cured,
My illness is absorbed. I
will this to be.
High seriousness is not always the order of the day. The poems are full of earthy drolleries the careful reader will enjoy as in TO PAUL CLAUDEL:
I’m in love with a dead man.
I suppose it was inevitable.
Difficult but not insurmountable.
Her poems benefit from her gift for words and her ability to see things in a way unique to herself. What we are experiencing here is human experience laid bare. The language often sings and the tropes are made to show their stuff. This is a breakthrough collection. While there are hints of Eliot, Lowell, Stevens and Ashbery, in the totality it’s all Susan Maurer. She is a mature poet who has lots to say and one is well advised to take the time to understand her voice and enjoy its range. And to expect more good things to come. Devil take the hindmost, as she suggests in RIVER BED:
The wind filled the sails but the boat stayed
Which scared some sailors
But we were mellow
They were calling the king of the moon Your Lunacy
They are saying a poor man went to play his instrument
Below the sea, ignoring the logistics of breathing and soggy strings
Let them say what they will
We are not dissuaded
We board the paddlewheel swan
Along with several random others about whom we wondered
All the way across, but they ignored us, looked straight ahead
The Swedish publisher Lars Palm and his ungovernable press, have demonstrated a practiced and sophisticated eye for the best in American poetry. And we are enriched by this.