Review Of Dana Roeser's "All Transparent Things Need Thundershirts"
“That’s when/ I learned shame would/probably be with me/ at my death – my/ default setting.” –“Letter to Dr. M”
Ah, I was just thinking about shame. Shame and art, in particular.
In the opening poem of Dana Roeser’s collection All Transparent Things Need Thundershirts (Two Sylvias Press) she’s ashamed that she went horseback riding during an unnoticed tornado warning, after her eye doctor advised her not to go running, in order to save her vision. Soon she is “rescuing/horses in a debris-strewn/ windy pasture in the dark/after. Who are hysterical/and afraid.” She revisits the horses throughout the book, but not in a prettified way. Hers is a visionin the wild woman tradition, a woman negotiating a world of boundaries, while coaxing the 2000 pound animal under her 100 pound command. In the same way, she commands her own power as a writer in this, her fourth volume. She does what only great art and great sex can do: take away our shame.
In “Poem Starting with Dry Cleaning” she brings humor to the debates with herself about what to do and not do in a day overstuffed with possibilities. “the thing with/diurnal/journal type/occasional poems/is that one does/get tired.” We join her on a day that is like a galloping horse, ending with her visit to her aged father in the nursing home, slowing the pace because of the care it takes to cut his fingernails.
“Flying Change” reveals more of these rivers of small-type verse down a mostly white page, into a land of cut up techniques, weaving three streams together. Can a reader keep up? Or, like the wacked out pilot, ready to jump off? By the poem’s end, she is quoting the brilliant Louis CK in his bit about air flight. Yay! Then follows up with MeToo apologies. Second yay!
“Figure, Ground” is about seeing Matisse at the museum on a break from visiting her critically ill friend in the hospital. Again, the diurnal, a juxtaposition, and the power of perception against powerlessness. “Fire Academy” begins as a dream poem and ends in cultural critique. “Crush” explores the many meanings of the word through scenarios: the crushed food given to her father at the nursing home, the crushed spine of the woman getting drunk next to her at the bar, the crushes of married women on other men. Roeser is a both a weaver and a cut-up, her mind works fast, she is fiercely funny, at the speed of the feed of her diurnal we follow her. It can be exhausting. She’s come to honor herself – isn’t that the goal for all of us?
Of the sonnet, her writing teacher advises “do not attempt it.” in “Twenty Meter Circle” the height of the collection. Here she equates dressage, the most formal equestrian feat, with formal poetry. “I envy/those people with/ discipline. Let’s face it./ They saw the chaos/ and decided/with enough curb-chain/jerking they could conquer it.” Her “dissolute” dressage instructor advises her on her form on horseback “if it/feels completely wrong/ then its right.” But Roeser knows better and feels the horse under her is also ill equipped for the formal. They both feel the tornados coming. We are lucky to have shameless and wild Dana Roeser on our side.
This work is the winner of the Two Sylvias Press 2017 Wilder Series Poetry Book Prize, open to women over 50 years of age. The contest “draws its inspiration from American author Laura Ingalls Wilder, who published her first Little House book at age 65…young women may be wild, but mature women are wilder.”
The Two Sylvias Press website is fun to browse. Besides putting a focus on female poets, they have created beautiful gifty products like The Poet Tarot Deck and Guidebook and Emily Dickinson Blank Journal. “Two Sylvias Press was founded in 2010 by poets Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy. Two Sylvias Press draws its inspiration from the poetic literary talent of Sylvia Plath and the editorial business sense of Sylvia Beach.”