Luminous Emergencies

by Mary Di Michele
112 pages,
ISBN: 0771028245

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The Dark Seductive God
by Rosemary Sullivan

WITH MARY DI MICHELE`s Luminous Emergencies one has the sensation of walking into an autonomous, textured mind weaving its stories one inside the other. One is reminded that poetry is not simply pleasure in the skilful play of language but also pleasure in the integrity of the mind using it. A mind at the farthest reaches of itself, out on a limb where the cost is high. The poetry of Mary di Michele has always moved me. Few poets are as erotic as she. The erotics of desperation -- language is labial, beautifully and flagrantly sexual in her mouth. Unlike many today she refuses to give that up wouldn`t know how to. Best, you can trust her to keep a poem going where most others would stop. Each section of Luminous Emergencies has a different mood and focus. The first part, "Beauty is Suspect," one might call the love poems. She can be funny -- writing a poem about a gigolo monkey or about listening to Puccini: "When the sounds you hear are metasexual, it`s Giacomo"; bitter -- "Something metallic with a memory of flesh. That`s how I understand men when I understand them at all"; or comically crude -- "Walter gives good phone." But cynicism? That seems not to have occurred to her. She is as puzzled as any by the tentativeness in Modern encounters, the push/pull gym nastics of sex. But she says simply: Get your nerve, and your estrogen or testos terone, tip. She is a phenomenon of appetite. She wants the whole pot. The poems in section two, "From the Spanish," many of them prose poems, were written from a recent trip to Chile and they are powerful. It`s odd to speak of sentimentality when the subject is torture and murder, but the hazard many poets fall into when they write about Latin America is to make it one-dimensional, and to presume that they understand the horror. They appropriate the experience as if they knew it, and become revolutionary groupies in a fetish of outrage. Not so di Michele. She knows Chileans "count on the poet, part angel/ part animal, to be the one who has not forgotten to feel." You get the texture of the ordinary lives, with their messiness, even humour, which does not disappear with horror -- the poet talking to the people in her poems not as specimens for study but as ordinary people in human rooms. In the best poem, "The Afterlife of Shoes," the speaker is a graveyard attendant tired of the shuffle of so many bodies; he berates them for bothering him with their stupid heroism. The poet`s gringo friend takes back to Canada a photo of a shoe discarded beside a grave, and, as from a fingernail a person can be cloned, from a shoe the poet recovers a life through the process of the poem. The third section, "Artifice, Beauty and Fear," is composed of elegies to artists who died: to Robert Billings, to Claude Jutra, to Gwendolyn MacEwen, to others. They earn the puzzled dignity the form requires. Meditations on life: "Nothing could be more tenuously held/except perhaps the cosmos/banging stars in string/theory." The one to MacEwen is particularly remarkable. The poet dies not of Despair but by Prophecy, which has conjured the dark seductive god, and, thinking of MacEwen`s last book, Afterworlds, one says yes. The last section, "Without Willing," is, one might say, about poetry in its pursuit of the angel. Di Michele quotes her 10-year-old daughter, Emily: "Every poem is an emergency" Luminous emergencies, the pursuit of the lumen. Astonishing that, even with all the pain in this book, and the recognition that poetry changes nothing ("I can`t mend even the simplest break with/this improvised sling/over the abyss"), the poet still searches for a code of affirmation, a way to live in the midst of the body`s betrayals, with trust. I suppose it`s because di Michele places her own integrity so clearly on the line, because the poems do not lose sight of the mud in which they stand, that we follow her narrative, with trust.

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