Sunday, 30 November 2014

As If It’ll Change Everything

Michael Lista traces the power of Stevie Howell's "smoldering" poetry debut to her ambivalence about poetry itself:
There’s a kind of Pascal’s Wager about Howell’s artistic skepticism; poetry may ultimately make nothing happen, but just to hedge your bets you might as well write as if it’ll change everything. And she does. It’s a testament to Howell’s artistry that even though her debut descends into the darkness of abuse, personal tragedy, mental illness and alcoholism, it never feels begloomed, as it’s shot through with the levity and light of her talent. Her ear is impeccable, and she has a gift for mimicry. In “To the free felons who run your facility,” she summons the voice of a paranoid middle-aged man looking for property last seen in 1983. In “Crunches,” she apes some Millennial Liberty Village types, up-speak and all, gearing up for a debauched Halloween: “I’m going to be a Victoria’s Secret angel/ which is neat because my name is Victoria?” And then there are the tiny moments of lyric discovery, like these two jingle-ready lines about everyone’s preferred NSAID: “Take an Advil Liqui-Gel;/ a little Lake Louise in a pill.” Watching her grandfather’s casket being lowered into the earth, she writes: “his reliquary swayed over/ a salivating hole.” It takes an artist of enormous talent to make even insatiable death sound rapturous.

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