Thursday, December 13, 2012


rob mclennan Reviews

Thunderbird by Dorothea Lasky
(Wave Books, Seattle WA/New York NY, 2012)

Death and Sylvia Plath

My student in the city college
Really likes the poems of Sylvia Plath
She is writing her research paper about
Lady Lazarus
I like this student
She spends some time
Leaning over me and telling me
How in the poem Plath turns from an object
Into an entertainer
And finally into a demon
Oh yes, you are right, I tell her
We are pleased
I wonder afterwards,
Why do young women like Sylvia Plath?
Why doesn’t everyone?
The student tells me that when she was young
She liked Plath
I did too
I did not ride horses
Sylvia Plath rode horses
I don’t have a thesis
I don’t have a structure
I am a demon
There are blue streaks in the sky
It is Spring
I am not you
Nor do I want to be
It is 2:21 on 2/21/2010
I am not alive
No, I am no longer breathing
I don’t live in this world
I already live in the other one

In her third trade poetry collection, Thunderbird (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2012), American poet Dorothea Lasky continues the sharp lines and striking images of her previous collections, Black Life (Wave Books, 2010) and AWE (Wave, 2007). There is such a starkness, a directness to Lasky’s poetry that holds nothing back, as she composes a series of straight lines and phrases sharp enough to cause the fingers to bleed. In Thunderbird, short narrative essays disguise themselves as poems, and poems disguise themselves as something entirely else. In Thunderbird, Lasky continues to weave a series of narrative straight lines and dark subjects. The narrator(s) of Lasky’s poems embrace the dark, with poem titles that include “Why is it a black life,” “Is it murder,” “The world doesn’t care,” “Ugly feelings” and “Death and Sylvia Plath.” There is an odd, pessimistic humour to Lasky’s writing, as in the poem “Is it murder” that includes:

Writers make workshops
Artists make hell
To live in
I make hell to live in
I make hell

I make hell
Where it already is
In the poem

Lasky’s writing is very much an exploration of the dark, without shedding light to erase or castrate the dark, but feeling her way through, two hands deep. The short lines in her poems give the cadence and appearance of a series of chants, and I wonder if Lasky is the sort of poet who reads her line breaks as pauses, or sweeps directly through? Given the work in this collection, it would appear as though poems are Lasky’s best thinking form, a particularly intense and incredible intellectual catch-all for arguments, musings and critical questions, although I would be interested to see what she might do with essays or other forms of critical prose. A particular highlight had to be the poem-as-essay “Ugly Feelings,” dedicated “after Sianne Ngai,” that opens:

Why are people so cruel?
I mean that as a very serious question
Why can people be so cruel and why do they want to hurt
    other people
And why do they hate with such intensity
And why do normal things make normal people so mad

Matthew Savoca wrote in a poem
That Mother Nature is the new art
If that is true then what
Would that nature be
I really don’t know


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

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