A Three Drops Review
Four-Legged Girl by Diane Seuss
[Reviewed by Michelle Anderson]
Diane Seuss’ poetry breaks down the organic matter of emotion, reducing it to it’s original earthy elements and examines facets of desire, spirituality, solitude, and freakishness under a microscope of verse and imagination. Her first book of poetry, It Blows You Hollow (1998) explores a nefarious power in being exposed as the speaker is challenged to remain transparent despite being ‘blown hollow’. The speaker in Seuss’ second collection, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (2010) which won the Juniper Prize for Poetry, lingers in the grimy filth of desire, brewing in and becoming one with the putridity she is left with. Her latest collection is a step up the swinging carnival ladder for her speaker. Four-Legged Girl (2015), finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, exposes a ferocious femininity married with a decomposing despair that is only alleviated by imagination.
Four- Legged Girl is a five-part odyssey through an evolution of memory, peering into how we create meaning around experiences and how that meaning can change over time. In the first section, blossomhouse, The speaker lures the reader like a small child outside the protective vestibule of community where an unknown fear exists. In The potato sack filled with toys was beautiful, the speaker construes:
“A jack-in-the-box that played a warped Chopin nocturne, and you don’t
want to know who leaped out of the box.”
Similarly in the first of the four part poem Hub, the speaker highlights a reminiscence of a minister’s sermon title
“There Is No Protection. Not Really. Even my mother nodded at that one, the smoke from her Viceroy entangled in her unwrinkled curls.”
Seuss’ images are not of items or feelings but of the speaker’s memories of these items and feelings. These memories are described how they were experienced, but with a intonation of hindsight.
In the second and third sections blowtorch the hinges and lush we see the speakers ripe ideas of femininity and female sexuality which are at the core of Seuss’ work, along with loneliness and despair. In Long, long ago I used to smoke in bed the speaker reveals, a causation of her sensual exploits,
“The boyfriends got mad, not at the girls but at me,
for I’d glutted the carburetor of the engine that kept
the world spinning in their direction.”
It is not the experience but the memory of it that is challenging for the status quo. The speaker is a dark and lonely specimen not unlike the title character, Josephene “Myrtle” Corbin, the real four-legged girl who spent many years on display in a travelling American freak show. Ms Corbin was a dipygus meaning she had two pelvises side by side with an anatomically correct and a small leg attached to each. Seuss paints her speaker as a phantasmagoric effigy of the feminine divine in direct comparison with the four-legged girl. Both are on display and disarm their viewers by their singularities.
Her fourth section free beer, is full of memories and images of decomposing beauty.
In I emptied my little wishing well of it’s emptiness, the well, or the heart, was emptied by filling it with desire.
“Desire, sad to say, is sludgy with dead leaves,
fish-rot, twaddle. Its juices are sweet, red-brown,
sassafras root pressed in a vice.”
The images of decay resemble a cautious inferencing, like a child gently poking a dead animal with a long stick.
Seuss’ final section, a period’s period explores the aftermath of desire and despair, which is loneliness. Referring to herself as a stone, the speaker takes refuge in her imagination. In I’m full of sadness she explains:
“Sadness overruns me.
I’m a bee balm, a swarm at my centre.
Pollen heavy on the wires of their back legs.
Like gold velvet pantaloons.”
Although weighed down by reminisces of experiences, of “feasting on the younger versions of ourselves”, in Beauty is over an unforeseen power is found by the speaker through “the precious freak who lives at the heart of me still”:
“All the world leaders shall be those born with too many, too
the three-eyed, the four-legged, like twelve-fingered Lucille, with her bad
kidneys, bad teeth and bad breasts, her bad hair, her two-headed poetry”.
Diane Seuss once again uses her atramentous prowess to slither under the skin of her readers. I thoroughly enjoyed being caught in the wake of the speakers evolution in four-legged girl, exposed to her interpenetration of beauty, desire, loss and suffering, all of which are on exhibit like specimens in vaudevillian side show.
Four-Legged Girl is published by Gray Wolf Press, and is available here, or on Amazon.