Lady Lazarus Redux. Amanda Earl. above/ground press. Ottawa, Ontario. 2017.
Gwendolyn MacEwen, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.
Amanda Earl has gone to the source, the deep pool, and come up smoking. Today's book of poetry won't bother explaining how and what Earl borrowed from these giants, Earl explains it clearly enough in an "Afterword." The technique doesn't matter that much to Today's book of poetry although it is an amazing and diligent feat, all that matters to us is what Earl does with the tools she has manufactured.
Amanda Earl's Lady Lazarus Redux burns.
Today's book of poetry is relatively familiar with some of Amanda Earl's earlier works, we had Milo, our head tech, go into the stacks and he brought back Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014), I Owe Saint Hildegard the Light (unarmed chapbooks, no date), and 48 Bowls (le Temps des cerises/an Angel House Press Imprint, 2013). Of course Milo now knows he has to add a few Amanda Earl titles to our ongoing list of poetry titles we are in search mode for.
Today's book of poetry is familiar enough with Earl to know that unlike the rest of us, Earl is willing to spread her net wide. Amanda Earl isn't dedicated to a particular voice, a particular style, instead she tries new styles on like intellectual hats. The poems in Lady Lazarus Redux employ a more narrative hook and Earl is happy to step on the gas, she is willing and able to stretch her bad engine into a higher gear.
Part Ten: The Same, Identical Woman
I am exhausted. I am exhausted.
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
Sylvia Plath, The Bee Meeting
Another messy wake up at four thirty a.m. against my will. I sip water, try to
dehydrate so I won't be clumsy but all the ghosts are here. They won't let me
Silence makes its painstaking way into the day's carnival. Tap screech. Fridge
moan. I am unaccustomed to strangers. Dawn is my sleep's enemy. I want to make
a mansion out of my bed. Exhausted by eight p.m., I become thin as glass.
Winter is smooth. I crave the burr of spring, its exotic tricks of light, shadow
dancing. I avoid crowds, put on a velvet demeanour, tile my worries as limestone
shale on Ashburnham Hill. My goal is translucence.
What's the etiquette for I don't give a fuck! I choose a white card. My hands are
dry. I'd steal moisture from the moon, but that's time-consuming. The moon
despises me. We are rivals.
I am an exile in a colourful fish pond. I swim in the wrong direction, if I swim at
all. I am neglected with the sodden lilies and lazy bullfrogs, my outsider pals. I
unravel the seams of my gills to reveal my scars. I am graceless. Most days I fake it.
In public I don another mask, made of leaves that never turn or die. I am the
overripe thorn never the flower. I have outstayed my welcome. I have teeth. I am
sharp. I can sting. I bristle. There is no gentle here.
My hair is silver. I refuse to dye. I let it grow. It curtains the dark. I am
embarrassed not noble. A roll of sorrow overcomes.
I've never paid attention to omens. I choose a blue card. Blue for melancholy, for
medicine in the form of small pills. Yellow for Valium. I shred portents. I cry.
Fountains overflow. Here's an obsolete penny. Make a wish.
Fear is lamp black, impenetrable. I drown in my unadulterated contradictions. I
poison the light with humid passion when I'm supposed to be dried up. See me
smile to camouflage the sorrow, blond as flaxen, smooth as linseed. Spin me into
I am monstrous, a whore, I confess reluctantly to eager suitors. They wear out
their purity. I canvas misery. I am a beautiful liar, n'est-ce pas? It's an affliction. A
siren with a head of silver years. Men swagger. I indulge them. I am fond of the
ingenue, but I don't want to guide him, I just want to be a witness.
In Lady Lazarus Redux Amanda Earl is almost always quoting someone in her single project based matrix, one of the four, MacEwen,Rich, Sexton or Plath. But the language is always Earl. But when Earl quotes Plath she is starting up the engine.
"I am terrified by the dark thing
That sleeps inside me."
Sylvia Plath, Elm
Earl starts one of the her ten dynamos that appear in Lady Lazarus Redux with this great Plath quote and Today's book of poetry is pretty sure that Earl realizes that most of us have "dark things" that come in the night, but very few of us are capable of making music out of the dark. Discord is a big black raven that sweeps above and around Earl's poems, that is until she grabs the beast and starts plucking it's long feathers.
Earl leans on the dark and pulls it taut. Men aren't secondary in these poems, but they are barely present, barely necessary. Earl is speaking from a place that seeks no approval. This is a type of reporting for the new poetry news.
Part Four: The Paperweight
The world is blood-hot and personal
Sylvia Plath, Totem
Dread follows a siege of cravings and aversions. As if my plasma is pleading for
iron, a backbone, resilience.
The leaf of my temper unfurls and fiery bells of fury clang in my skull. I stumble
with the weight of hot iron. I am charred. I boil. I am a danger zone. Now
emotions are snow-feathered, delicate. I tremble, so brittle, I splinter.
This blood rust scent of myself incites burnt ocher dreams: cars on fire, sirens
wailing, the howl of nameless creatures in the hot dark. Gardens are luminous with
flame. I cannot surface.
Saints cry out to me in nightmares. The sheets are stained. I press my finger
against my clit. In the morning I wake with dried blood on my palm.
Treat this body as a numb castle with the drawbridge up. Do not attempt to
rescue the princess. She is seated at her doom, doing nervous needlework, pricking
her finger. She is cursed.
Thoughts shear through my mind. Dread is an icicle that stabs into calm. Ice turns
to brick. This is not alchemy, it is anxiety, a muddy recognition. Flat, unpercussive
It doesn't matter if I cross a thousand cold rivers, hug an icepack in my sleep, eat
an ice cream cone while wandering in January with my coat open, stand naked at
the window on a wintry night, the serpent of heat licks flame at my skin until I am
soaked in sweat.
Dear moon, a gesture would be nice. You're always so regular. I have a calendar
that tells me when you wax and wane. I envy your predictability. Bright wolf of
silvery gibbons while my uterus clenches blankly.
I am not made of iron. I seethe and sob. The earth turns from day to night and I
from dark to light. My bounce against infinity is no more than an ephemeral
This lust is carried on scorched winds. When I touch a pencil, it turns to ash. I stay
away on purpose. Internalize my fervour. I am no gallery of calm. I am a
connoisseur of carnality. A heat-seeker, a bomb.
The women here at Today's book of poetry are all big fans of Amanda Earl. As Kathyrn, our Jr. Editor said this morning: "She will say the thing!" No fear.
In an effort for full disclosure Today's book of poetry does know Amanda Earl, we have one of her hand-made bowls sitting beside the desk in our office. Today's book of poetry would go so far as to say that we are friends with Ms. Earl — but our circles don't intersect all that often.
Our morning read was smooth as glass. Maggie, our new intern, took over the reins and laser pointed us home. A Ms. Birney (yes, an honest to goodness, real life, relative of the late Saint Earle of Birney) joined us for this morning's reading. The gang rose to the challenge and waltzed Amanda Earl around our offices and into the beautiful spring morning. Ms. Birney brought a friend, Lucy, who was new to us all but made she made friends of us all quickly, joined in the reading. Lucy chose this last poem
Part Eight: The Cat
Love is a shadow.
How you lie and cry after it.
Sylvia Plath, Elm
Opening childproof extra strength sinus medication, plastic pantyliner bags, jars of
nuts, wine sealed with corks has become increasingly difficult with age. Will alone
isn't enough. I aspire to be enriched. I end up a restless paces of the night, all
packages destroyed by my teeth, my head pounding and stains in my underpants.
Age inscribes its sophistry on my body. This flesh was never holy but decadent
and real. I caress my scars.
My senses incinerate order, but I am no fan of chaos. The surface is rapacious and
dull. I want to delve, not to police my actions. I try to get hold of myself.
My emotions roar. My anxieties sear me. I am clinging as hard as I can to the
balustrade of optimism. I have two sides at least, odd and even. Odd usually wins.
I am an actor in the torchlight, making unidentifiable shadow puppets on the wall.
I do not envy youth. I am an arsonist of memory. I set each reminiscence on fire
and watch the remnants curl as it burns. I wake up sweating. My father tried to
possess me. Sometimes I believe he succeeded. And we are in hell together.
Here is a recollection. It is Christmas Eve. My father is into the whiskey again. I
am upstairs in my bedroom, but the shouts of my parents' battle reach my ears.
There is sudden movement. Screams. Something crashes. I hide underneath my
bed. I piss my pajamas because I am too afraid to leave the room to go to the
Nightmares have anchors. This ship doesn't move. Holidays weigh me down. Bing
Crosby is singing White Christmas. I love the red cardinals on the cards strung
across the silver garlands in the living room. But a black bird caws in the sun and
the sky darkens once again.
Flights of fancy got me through childhood. My stories, my imaginary friends, the
willow tree fairies, standing still on the railroad tracks, imagining the train would
take me away, escapes to cool creeks, tadpoles in a bucket, surprise frogs. I
remember that little girl. I wish I could be her guardian angel.
When I left home I took the Red Rose tea figurines with me. The owl and the
duck, the foxes and deer, the cats and dogs, the fish, the monkeys, we fled. I
wrapped them in tissue paper to keep them whole.
The little girl is made of glass. Despair causes cracks in her psyche that can't quite
be repaired. Now she reflects the light. So many colours in the prism of her life
reflected back as shards of memory and a love of the broken.
"...and a love of the broken." That damned line broke Today's book of poetry's heart the first time we read it, and the second and the third.
Today's book of poetry was very happy to write about Amanda Earl's most recent chapbook Lady Lazarus Redux. Amanda Earl is a poet of large appetites, Today's book of poetry is certain we will see more from Earl.
Photo: Charles Earl
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Earl is an Ottawa writer, publisher and visual poet. She's the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. More information is available at AmandaEarl.com.
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