OK, I’m a little intimidated talking about Rachel Loden’s new book, Dick of the Dead (Ahsahta Press, 2009). I could say it’s bigger and (even) better than Hotel Imperium, but that’s pretty shallow, so I won’t. But I do want to let you all know that you should get it and read it.
As in H.I., Loden [OK - Rachel - hi, Rachel!] lets her inner formalist come out to play. A lot of these poems are almost already on the verge of rhyming – or they are rhyming, but you can’t figure out how – which is the mark of a fine musician. But often the playground seems like the political unconscious. Or cultural shadowland. Or something. (She’s a lot more eloquent than I am, anyway).
Anyway, the Dick of the title is the dead Dick Nixon, of course; he is the (oh shitse! there is some latin or French term for this) you know, - well, Nixon is to this book what Tiresias is to the Waste Land, let’s just leave it at that. But I get the impression that “Nixon” isn’t always the biographical disaster who was president from 1969-1974. Rather, that name is a composite persona – a very dark shade – a kind of Henry Bones or shadow Maximus. And, of course, there’s Dick Cheney, too, and Belial (fine distinction, I know). And Betsey Ross, I think. Et alia.
Now, if this were a real review, this would be the place where I quote sections of poems. And this is deerintheheadlights time – how does one choose. Granted, I like some more than others, but really. Well, some of these poems are rewritings (redactions? travesties?) of other poems. For instance, Wallace Stevens’ “Rabbit as King of the Ghosts” ends with:
You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,
You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.
In Loden’s “Milhous as King of the Ghosts,” the creepy bunny becomes the CREeP-y president:
I become an empire that fills the oleaginous pipelines
Of the earth. The bitch is still yapping
By gravestone-light and I am whipped high, whipped
Up, sculpted higher and higher, cool as a sphinx –
I sit with my head like a Rushmore in space
And the scrofulous hound smelling blood on my wings.
[google “Nixon AND Checkers,” kids] So, likewise, “I Knew a Man” becomes “I Knew a Brand” (the Jaguar XKR, as it turns out).
But there’s a lot more right-brain stuff going on in this book: that is, there are poems that may or may not be polished to a lapidary sheen, but that seem straight from the Martians (or the psychic Plumbers). Like that “Belial” poem:
Have you tasted me yet with the black hairs of your feet?
You lay your tiny, lilliput eggs in a basket: Easter fungi. . . .
Shall I compare your intentions to a giant cod which when split open, reveals a severed head?
They say your smegma is a delicacy in some countries, so give us a wet kiss –
Your fruiting body with its lacy gills, your stinger with its sweet paralysis.
Yeow. Or the “Richard Nixon Snow Globe” (which, apparently doesn’t really exist anywhere in the wide world’s web, despite an exhaustive search) made by a man who had to, “So he could see Dick’s head inside a dome/ While hoodoo snow is falling/ On the baby bush tricked out with lights/ In his rancho home sweet ovum.” Further deponent sayeth not.
Loden is one of the few poets around who can pull off addressing “big” issues in the res publica in a serious way – deftly, making traditional forms her own, at that – without sounding sententious. I think that’s b/c it’s too weird. Her stuff seems at least as close to Andre Breton as to “public poetry” in the US of the late 40s. And that’s the reason to read, not for me but for yourselves, o daughters of Sargon!
Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)
- PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
- PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
- DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
- TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
- CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
- BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
- KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.