I had not read any Seuss but the good Doctor until I discovered this remarkable collection, although the Kalamazoo-based Diane Seuss has been publishing poetry since the late 1990s. I obviously have some catching up to do, because her ekphrastic poems in this collection are evocative, brilliant, startling in their imagery and flow, and take autobiography to a new level, where one’s sensations, feelings, and thoughts upon meeting a painting reveal the inner core of the viewer. In a series of “Still Life” poems and “Self-Portraits,” Seuss crosses genres, not only from poetry to prose but also poetry to painting and back. In the series “Walmart Parking Lot,” Seuss gives us the seemingly banal scene as if told from the art and point of view of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, and Alice Neel, and in doing so shows how much each artist has to offer to the world. I dare you to read poems like “I Look Up from My Book and Out at the World through Reading Glasses,” “Self-Portrait with the Ashes of My Baby Blanket,” and “I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Paradise,” and not be at least a little changed. That’s what a good poem can do.
I recently got to see Tommy “Teebs” Pico read at the wonderful Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago. If you get a chance to hear him read, take it! I doubt there’s a funnier, braver, or more bracingly intelligent poet working today. He’s fresh from winning a “genius grant” from the Whiting Foundation. In their award citation the committee said, “Pico writes poetry of rare brilliance, assured in form and forceful in its interrogation of myth and cultural expectations and self. His ability to move among those spaces gives the work the feeling of an opened ceiling.” In the book-length poem Junk, gay, urban, Native American Pico tackles all possible meanings of the word “junk” to give us an amazing portrait of the complexity of the world. With its rampant consumerism, its heady and possibly poisonous mix of politics, personal history, class, sexuality, race and consumption, and with its ode to the snack foods that are so good (but so bad for us), Junk uses a breakneck, high-speed internet pace to let us into the mind and point-of-view of a new, vital voice in American poetry. And then buy Pico’s 2017 collection Nature Poem while you’re at it—a searing critique of racism, colonialism, and contemporary society, all with Pico’s disarming honesty, humor, and mad skills.