Diane Seuss is like Emily Dickinson’s God. She “stuns you by degrees.” Her poems are smart and sly — and surprisingly raw. There is nothing she won’t explore, from watching her father die to writing porn for William Burroughs. As she claims in one poem, “I’m glorious in my destruction like an atom bomb.”
Her most recent book, “Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl” (2018), was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Many of the poems in this, her fourth collection, force us to look hard at the way objects are captured in art, like van Gogh’s “still lifes of old boots” and Chardin’s “dead hare strung up in a brownish-gold space.” How do the mundane and ugly become beautiful? And what do these paintings say about the artists? In one poem, she writes:
Silence has its own roar, or not-roar,
just as Rothko wrote “I don’t express myself
in my paintings. I express my not-self.”
A poem that expresses the not-self.
Everything but the self.
The meadow’s veil of fog, but is veil self-referential?
That question is typical of the way Seuss explores what we take from other artists.
In “Self-Portrait With Sylvia Plath’s Braid,” she writes:
In the dream I fasten
her braid to my own hair, at my nape.
I walk outside with it, through the world
of men, swinging it behind me like a tail.
Seuss will be the next guest for the Life of a Poet at Hill Center on Tuesday. This tri-annual series, now in its sixth year, offers a chance to consider a writer’s entire career during an hour-long conversation. Previous guests have included Edward Hirsch, Frank Bidart and Ada Limón.
In addition to talking with Seuss about her life and inspiration, I’ll invite her to read from her work. Copies of Seuss’s books will be offered for sale in the lobby, where you can talk with her and get your copies signed. The Life of a Poet is co-sponsored by Hill Center, the Library of Congress, The Washington Post and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (two blocks from the Eastern Market Metro stop on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines).
Cost: Free, but register for a seat at hillcenterdc.org.
Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.