March 15th, 2008
Review by Karla Huston
WHAT FEEDS US
by Diane Lockward
600 Overbrook Dr.
Nicholasville, KY 40356
85pp., $15.00, softcover
In this, her second collection of poems, Lockward considers the things that feed her in both the physical and metaphoric sense. Readers will find a sensuous feast of fruits and vegetables, of bees and birds, of words and wit. Along with this, Lockward brings an appreciation for language and those surprises that make her poems truly memorable.
Freshness graces Lockward's table. She surprises readers at every turn with intelligence and daring. Yes, she's included staple fare--poems strongly rooted in story. Within this narrative frame, she fills her pages with a profusion of interesting characters: Darlene with the "yummy legs," a man who births his own perfect doll, a woman who dreams the perfect man. She embraces fruits and vegetables, more than a few mean bees, some sticky worms, and dirty words, "[t]he ones that sound obscene but aren't."
Many of her poems suggest unusual metaphors for the human condition. For example, she embraces an artichoke: "derelict in my father's garden, / ...strange as a bony-plated armadillo," a vegetable that becomes the symbol for the break-up of a marriage. In another, the colors of yellow and gold represent freedom: "The lawn filled with dandelions. / Because weeds meant he was gone, / she thought they were beautiful, / a blanket of gold over the green." The arrival of weeds meant he'd left, and she no longer feared him. "The whole world turned / yellow." Gloriously gold.
Lockward isn't afraid to stray from free verse as a means to spice up her stories. She creates a sonnet, and a love test in the form of a ghazal, a dramatic monologue, a triolet, a prose poem on loneliness, and a concrete poem in the shape of an avocado. Within these formal containers, Lockward's writing is lavish and sumptuous; her descriptions and language play are delicious with detail. Within these delights is always something else, something more, often with a sadness, a loneliness at the core. In Sometimes in Dreams, a woman imagines a stranger who holds her hand, a letter arriving with "tidings or money" instead of one filled with "coupons for stuff / [she] doesn't need or want," and yet she has plenty of blue, because, "Blue goes / with everything ... I've got a closetful of blue."
In A Boy's Bike, her narrator finds an abandoned bicycle. She is certain a boy will surely return for it, so she worries him into life, imagines he's stolen it and somehow gotten hurt trying to get away. She channels his mother's grief as her own. "We begin to worry about the missing / boy." And later: [W]e know this boy / is our boy, and we are there waiting for him to hit / the point of impact, longing for him to find his way / home, to come to us with his bloodless wounds." In a poem about putting up a wren house, the narrator says: "We could not bear the possibility of loss."
In Lockward's world, poems written about worms are sensual. Annelida, presents readers with a husband who saves worms stranded on the sidewalk after a rain -- rescues them from dying in the hot sun. He goes "to work without even washing / his hands." The narrator imagines him, "in his office sniffing / his fingers for the earthy scent of worms." She remembers collecting worms as a child. And later: "Some days I can hardly wait until my husband / comes home, and puts his hands on my skin."
Poems written about anger are passionate. In Invective Against the Bumblebee Lockward's narrator says:
Fat-assed insect! Perverse pedagogue!
Henceforth, may flowers refuse to open for you.
May you pass by an oak tree just in time
to be pissed on by a dog.
And tomorrow may you rest on my table
as I peruse the paper. May you shake
beneath the scarred face of a serial killer.
May you be crushed by the morning news.
Lockward is quick to find humor in her world. Many of her poems are witty and more often than not wise, serious but most often playful. She directs readers to avoid doctors, "Because they find something you don't / want. That's their job, finding trouble." In Seduction her narrator considers "the way it starts out small, / then swells to a big fat bottom cupped / in my hand. I wish I could love it, / but something there is about a pear / I can't embrace--that stem popping up / like an exclamation point."
In one of the most clever poems in the collection, Lockward addresses "The Best Words," the ones that seem dirty but aren't, the ones "that put a finger to the flame but don't burn ... [w]ords like asinine, poppycock, titmouse, tit for tat, / woodpecker, pecorino, poop deck, and beaver."
And fructify--I want to conjugate
that sinuous verb, like Proteus, changing its form,
oozing into fructuous, assuming the official ring
of fructification, advocating like a president's wife
for the Fructification of America.
Lockward is a poet having a good time.
As a writer, Lockward has captured all that is wonderful about good poetry: a sense of surprise, a sense of play and a love of language. "She didn't know where she was going, / but she knew she'd need something to eat." Readers will find that Lockward indeed knows where she's going, and she understands that we all need something to fill us, to carry us, to sustain us.
Karla Huston is the author of Flight Patterns, (2003), Virgins on the Rocks (2004) and Catch and Release, (2005). Her poems have been published in many periodicals and online at 5 A.M., One Trick Pony, Poet Lore, Rattle, Chiron Review, Eclectica Magazine Poetry Southeast, Softblow Poetry Journal and many others. (www.karlahuston.com)