Wednesday, February 18, 2009

HALF LIFE OF MEMORY, by Lizz Huerta


My first impression was this: Some of the hardest-edged "love" poetry I've read. On second and third reads I became more aware of the tender moments, but the first read felt a bit like an eloquent punch in the guts. Lizz Huerta writes about subjects common to verse--such as love and femininity--and she uses lyrical language that recalls a classic approach, but the tones of these poems are often cynical, sometimes even savage: "hate-fuck me in the morning so I am reminded the rest of the day/ suck the knuckle lover, we'll lick the blade clean" (from "love like a dirty, dirty switchblade"). Read the second line aloud and you'll notice the way it inhabits the mouth, the exaggerated way it animates your tongue and your lips. The words are brutal, but they also carry a sensuous sonic-resonance. It's an interesting juxtaposition that comes up again and again throughout the course of the chapbook.

A nameless ex-lover often serves as the focus, as if the poems are being directed at him in a chronicle of memory, but rarely is he the recipient of the narrator's harshness. In fact, Huerta's tenderness (which I noticed more the second time around) is often offered to those who have jilted her. Sometimes the tenderness is pure: "I would note the shape of your mouth as you slept and knew// knowing as I did the intricacies of your distaste, what bells were ringing/ what the day would bring, and woman as I have been and cunning// would place my body into our mouth to bring about forget, turn you suckling" (from "pacifier"). Sometimes the tenderness is coupled with a wry twist: "Despite these reasons and the others we adhere ourselves to I ask that you/ stay well knowing that even when another is in my mouth, you are in my heart" (from "the new fidelity"). In either case, it's remarkable to go from scathing to gentle states so rapidly, so completely, and yet to have both tones feel at home in one volume.

And how is it that the book manages both tones, and others as well? I think it might come, in part, from a certain rejection of cliches. Huerta writes "not so long ago I was done so hard that when I stood up all of the romance fell out/ of my body and because of all the blood, I never noticed." (from "little song for dissatisfaction"). It's a revealing statement of lost innocence, or lost naivete. But people who reject the romantic side of love sometimes drift into other cliches, and other over-simplifications. Huerta also resists that path. For example, Huerta often portrays her sexual self as acquiescent ("my place, it seems, is beneath you," also from "little song for dissatisfaction"). By the end of the chapbook the reader might feel like they've got her figured out. And then, in the second to last poem ("antediluvian") we read: "see it there, at the edge, how her hand beckons like a fist, curled into a gesture/ that at a glance, looks submissive."

Too quick to judge her as one thing--submissive--we might fail to notice she's actually getting ready to knock us on our asses. With good writing, things are seldom as simple as they seem.

2 comments:

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