i just have to post this lovely review of Susan Maurer's Perfect Dark. these are the words of George Wallace
Peering Through Perfect Dark: New Poems by Susan Maurer
In PERFECT DARK (ungovernable press, 2009), a new collection of poems Susan Maurer, the urban dilemma that is New York is told in fine style, offering up poem after poem with the kind of duality that satisfies and tantalizes readers. There's fine understated humor in many of the poems, which softens the otherwise urbane voice -- one part wary and another part earnestly yearning. It is this combination of vulnerability of the heart and toughness of spirit that results in a compelling volume with fabulous range.
Some of Maurer’s poems are ineluctably of the moment, seeming to have been traced in a foggy train window and glimpsed in passing as we hurry by. Like BLUE CHALK LINE, at once suggestive of the emotive moment and dismissive of it:
"He wrote on the brick wall in blue chalk
'I know who wrote this.'
Well I know who wrote this and
you know who's reading this
and that takes care of that."
In the poem WITH THE UNBEARABLES, by contrast, we are rushed along pell-mell with the high intensity crowd -- stretching our legs and striding energetically, Frank O'Hara style, through the New York City streets.
"I notice I am running and the red dirt hits my Reeboks
Up or down, I'm baffled, go for up
I stumble to the crosswalk, see no clumps of people, ask
The first man sitting and the man who's sitting next to him
Tells me it's on further and yes, they do want readers"
There is a nuanced balance going on here between eagerness to experience the world and desire to maintain crowd control. We’re offered up a kind of innocence in the face of it all: "She made this cap/unafraid of the city's lingering threat,/was not troubled by thoughts of mutability,/of how this ephemeral thing would fare 5 years from now" writes Maurer in CORONA.
There is also a wry kind of cynicism, which only partly masks the underlying passion of the speaker, as in this couplet which concludes JARDIN CREPUSCLE: "The death penalty comes back on Monday/I guess I'll wear black". Or in the opening lines from TO PAUL CLAUDEL BEFORE I FOUND OUT HE WAS AN ANTI-SEMITE AND TURNED IN THE PLANE TICKET.
"Claudel, Claudel, Paul, Paul,
cent phrases pour l'eventails.
You have cured me of the sea
but fanned from a cinder to a torrid blaze
my love for you.
this book is S
O beau ti
ful, I'm afraid it
might fly away.
And you, Paul, I love you for your poetry.
But I hope your teeth aren't bad."
True to their urbane nature, Maurer's characters are equally unafraid to cut off a potential moment of intimacy in a New York minute.
It is this tentative place she defines -- between the fully realized human being living just below the surface of the urban defensive shell -- which makes Susan Maurer's poems so poignant and winning. Time and time again we are offered characters torn between the desire for human connection and puzzlement over how to remain safe while achieving it -- perfectly enunciated in the anecdotal CALLING BILL KUSHNER, one of her strongest poems from the collection,
"And so we collaborated.
He did one line and I did another.
I wanted to look down his throat
to see where some of them came from.
I mean how'd he come up with them?
And he was mad at me sometimes
'cause he didn't think of some lines I did.
I was honored.
It was so intimate I wasn't sure we should be doing this."
One almost wants to cry out with the same perplexity: 'yes, you SHOULD be doing this, Sue – no, no, you should NOT be!'
The ability to enunciate the dilemma of possessing a human heart in the treacherous urban environment is one of the hallmarks of New York poetry -- and in PERFECT DARK, Sue Maurer's got it in spades. There are vignettes and anecdotes of experiences from Mozambique to Tallahassee, as befits a globe-trotting Manhattanite. But whether it's at home or abroad, we are confronted with experiences and environs that both entice us and warn us away. PERFECT DARK is a world where a back yard is a 'concentration camp for drunks,' people with Walkmen in their ears 'deaf to their own drama,' and some kind of 'Guantanamo on the Hudson.' Even the butterflies become 'colors/fraught with wings.'
The whole question of selfhood in the tumult of stimuli can lead to a violent clipped and yet captivating directness, as in DREAM ADDICT
"I've been having to look at a
number of faces that will
no longer look at me.
Ocatillo living fence, what the blue turtles like.
I can smell snow,
the brilliance of what is
You hope the clown distracts the bull.
Where's the who. There's no who.
Horse of a different color. Same
Glass beast. Mud garden. Ecstatic devouring.
My body is a foreign country."
If in the end it is about survival, Maurer poses for her readers a profound question -- what it is that is worth surviving for. Throughout PERFECT DARK, we are reminded that there is beauty yet to be found within people and things, if we can just safely find our way through-- something inside that continues to offer enthrallment, and remains worth fighting for. "They are not the correct colors/it's o.k. to admire like/taupe and beige. These are Day-Gloes,/gawked at, cheap, carnival,/ what one doesn't like" she writes, in ZINC: FRANKLIN AND OGDENBERG NJ.
Yet rocks, she reminds us, "have secret/lives, fluoresce, have/double selves, turn from ordinary stone/to Day-Glo slash, or hot coal orange" and in the end, we want like the author to succumb to their beauty:
"I gawk. I love them,
in the same category of miracle as
eggs which stand on end at equinox."