Mountains and museums. Rivers and suburban roadways. Water bottles, wheelbarrows, sunflowers and salmon. In Jeff Steudel’s Foreign Park, cityscapes become landscapes become environmental wastelands become personal metaphors, leaping from page to page and moment to moment with a calm, intense thoughtfulness like the morning after a hard night’s drunk. Careful and poised, yet possessed of a certain self-effacing charm and a genuine warmth, Foreign Park is surprisingly complete and mature for a first book.
“No ‘we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain,” Susan Sontag wrote, sounding a note of caution to artists who would seek to ally themselves with marginalized people. Can the artist stand with both her subjects and her audience? Which “we” is looking and which is being looked at?
Sue Goyette’s The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl offers a poetic account of the real-life story of Rebecca Riley, a four-year-old girl from Massachusetts who died of an overdose of neuropharmaceuticals (including Depakote, Seroquel, and Clonidine) that had been prescribed for ADHD and bipolar disorder. Her parents were later convicted of her murder; the prescribing doctor, although no longer practicing, was not tried.
Poems about Orpheus are a dime a dozen: I’m not sure any myth has been reimagined more often than that of the ill-fated Thracian poet and singer. So if a poet wants to write a new Orphic hymn, it had better be pretty damn good, or offer something that hasn’t been done before: injecting an Orpheus poem into an indestructible microbe, à la Christian Bök, for instance. Which brings me to the unfortunate group of poems that close the second section of Earth and Heaven, all centred on Orpheus. With the exception of Steven Heighton’s “Were You to Die,” none do anything to enhance understanding of the complex Orpheus myth, a field already trodden, in the 20th century alone, by H.D., Rilke and Milosz to name but a few. Playing with myth, simply for the sake of doing so, can be a problem with myth poetry in general and with this anthology in particular.