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« In Which The Hardest Thing In The World Is To Live In It »

The World Doesn't Care


My high school therapist recommended against reading Sylvia Plath, specifically The Bell Jar. Why? Because I related too much. I wonder what my current therapist would say about reading Dorothea Lasky’s Thunderbird. I should give her a copy and find out.

Lasky announces her love of Plath in the epigraph that opens the book and again in the poem, “Death and Sylvia Plath."

...I wonder afterwards,
Why do young women like Sylvia Plath?
Why doesn’t everyone?

This strikes me as a supremely bold move. Why? Because throughout my short time in Poetry Land, Sylvia Plath has been referenced only as a punch line, a means of scoffing at “sincerity” and “confessional” poetry. Plath is simplistic, juvenile, someone young girls read, as if being a young girl is the most embarrassing kind of person to be. Hello, right grrrl. Her emotionality is direct, cathartic, completely unironic. She does not dissemble, does not dilute her emotions for the comfort of others, she is the picture of a "Crazy Woman."

My high school therapist also suggested that I stop drinking, smoking pot, watching cerebral dark foreign dramas (a designation my current Netflix preferences often skews towards) and spending so much time taking black and white photographs. Why? Because none of it was really helping with the ol’ depression.

I wonder what Dottie Lasky would say. Maybe:

Why it is a black life
Because nothing is permanent
And everything goes on and on not meaning anything

and then

Because I say things
in the simplest way possible
and am constantly misunderstood

Because sometimes you (I) feel dead and it feels great to have someone else say that they feel dead too.

The poems in Thunderbird inspire a deep sense of recognition in me for this reason and they induce an almost immediate dark trance state, which I like to call The Darkside. I like to joke about it, because when it comes on, it is so laughably complete and entire. When I cross over to The Darkside, everything is completely and utterly fucked, even kittens and babies - especially babies. Usually it takes a heavy internet trawl of “the news”, a bout of family drama or an interminably long poetry reading to get me to cross over these days, but Lasky’s poetry gets me there in just under eight lines.

Baby of air
You rose into the mystical
Side of things
You could no longer live with us
We put you in a little home
Where they shut and locked the door
And at night
You blew out

Woosh! I’m sixteen reading The Bell Jar, dutifully popping Zoloft, lugging my dead father’s five pound Minolta camera around my neck, hiding out in the red glow of my makeshift darkroom and waiting for an opportunity to get drunk on two beers and pass out. I’m the baby of air! I’m the one trying to keep the baby from blowing away! I’m both at once! Bahhhhh...

I don’t know if this is a feeling I necessarily want, but the fact that Lasky can do this to me in eight lines is stunning. It’s a full-body experience, like one of Lasky’s friends, poet CAConrad’s somatic exercises (collect dirt from the base of one of the trees in Emily Dickinson’s yard and rub it all over your body, leave it on for a week, then write a poem) in reverse, e.g. write a poem that induces a anxious dissociated floating head state in your reader, inspiring her to crawl under the covers and introspect.

This makes me wonder what Lasky might eat, drink or perform to put herself into the state that produces these poems. Does she dress in bright orange or apply iridescent purple polish to her nails, like I have seen her do and have felt enveloped and buoyed by? Does she enclose herself in a small room and turn off the lights? These poems affect me so bodily that I have to wonder what happens to her body to produce them. Would I wonder the same if she were not a woman? People rarely seem to wonder aloud about male poet’s bodies. Maybe not, but having a (female) body that I often feel distant from is just another in a cluster of points of relation these poems contain.

Whoosh! I’m twenty-five, slumped in bed with a glass of Jameson watching “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (cerebral dark foreign mini series) at 2 a.m. with all the lights off, barely getting it up to keep my chin off my chest.

No, but there’s more to it than that. Lasky puts me right in that spot I hate to find myself in, but return to so readily. The “I” of her poems keeps finding herself in this place too as in the poem, “Death and Sylvia Plath”:

I am not alive
No, I am no longer breathing
I don’t live in this world
I already live in the next

Or in the later poem “Reality”:

You think of this world
I am in the next

I know the white world
Where I have no eyes

I know what it is like
to float without space

I went over to The Darkside during a very long poetry reading last spring while Dottie painted my nails. We sat with our backs against the rear wall of the Poetry Project and passed a bottle of something between the three or four of us. It was the poetry and maybe a little of the bottle of something not Dottie that caused me to cross over. When I’ve listened to more than two hours of poetry, it all begins to sound the same. As the seemingly never ending parade of poets went on, I quietly began to grind my ax inside myself and soon poetry became all a bunch of privileged white folks (accurate in this case) jerking our imaginations off with words, turning around so we can take turns patting each other on the back while no one else notices… whoosh! and my reason for living was sucked from me, leaving me a crappy, grumbling husk. I am a poet, so when poetry, the thing I have built my life around, becomes utterly meaningless and arbitrary, so does everything else. To survive the reading, I stared at the purple and green galaxies of my fingernails, put there by Dottie, and burrowed into the center of my brain and thought about deep, dark space.

But what is incredible about this book, is that it reminds me how powerfully active this space is, that deep dark center of the brain Lasky so often describes in vivid greens and blues. This is where she finds lions, tigers, the devil and her father. I don’t know anything about chakras but I would say something about a power center. It’s a place to blow on your own flame.

These poems would fail if there were even a hint of irony in them. Instead, Lasky takes what we might write in our notebooks after a bad day and pushes further, takes on that voice without reservation so we can reckon with it fully. When it is this embodied, we can converse with it without all of the self-depricating hemming and ha-ing. Lasky finds the wherewithal to find what The Darkside provides. Rather than dipping in, taking a few souvenirs and heading back to write from the comfort of the living; she stays, lets it seep in and then reports, not from this side, but from that side.

I can’t help but hear Lasky’s voice when I read her poems. I heard the poems in Thunderbird before I every read them. Earlier in the evening of the interminable poetry reading, I read with Dottie at a bar in Brooklyn. If you haven’t heard Dottie Lasky read, go look her up on PennSound and if you haven’t seen her read in person, invite her to read at your reading series (start one if you have to). Just like her book, her voice creates a world unto themselves, one that envelopes you in its own interior logic, commanding your full attention. Her reading style presents a bit like the shrill monotone an elementary school kid reciting a monologue for the school play but...from beyond the grave. As in, the child is dead and has something very important to tell us all.

The world doesn’t care if you grow up and the only thing
Keeping you in place

Is the devil
But I care

But I care if you are hungry
The world doesn’t care
But I care

The world doesn’t care
But I do

This is probably the most comforting thing I can think of.

Having these poems read to you by Dottie Lasky in person is a different experience than reading them in bed by yourself, as I did. She is an energizing force, demanding of her readers, not of attention to her person in particular, but to their own lives, to their imminent possible deaths and the highly precarious state of living they’re in, temporarily, right now.

In college I was led to believe that poetry should not make a reader feel anything because that would be manipulative and thus fascist and thus we would be just like Goebbels whipping the German public into a murderous frenzy. Adorno and his fractured, stuttering insistence on saying nothing, was king. Paul Celan and his ability to express the inexpressibility of language through silence was the ultimate. I love that shit. But wow, if it isn’t gratifying to have Lasky, someone living now, through late capitalism’s cataclysmic fury, from within the center of empire, acknowledge our fucked state and still speak from it. We do have to live here somehow, if we do in fact choose to live here.

Lindsey Boldt is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Oakland. You can find her website here. She is the author of "Oh My, Hell Yes" and Overboard and recently co-edited a book of homages to the poet Etel Adnan titled Homage to Etel Adnan.

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