‘Temptation by Water’ – Diane Lockward

I thought I’d start this review with readings of two of the poems in it, because Diane Lockward’s collection Temptation by Water is definitely the sort of collection you want to read aloud. So here we go:  

(poem text) “The Temptation of Mirage”
(poem text)

I’m someone who spends a fair amount of time reading poetry aloud and I know very well by now that there is poetry that leaps willingly into your voice, and other poetry that, well – has to be coaxed. And as I noted in this post, writing well for voice has emotional and intellectual imperatives as well as the pure sound/voice imperative – it’s not just a matter of dutifully sounding things out as you write. Diane’s poems are definitely in the ‘leaping to voice’ category, which of course makes me happy that I picked her collection as one of my April review options.

So. These poems are cohesive and convincing, they make sense on all three levels (voice, emotional, intellectual). Also, if you’re a person who prefers ‘accessible’ poems, these are for you – although that does not mean that there is any lack of sophistication or complexity about them. On the contrary. The narrator is wise and empathetic and subtle, and has a wicked sense of humor. And a talent for making odd and unexpected connections that totally work . Potatoes, exotic fruit, a condemned building, an essay, language itself — all appear as reifications of some pretty complex emotional and spiritual geography. The collection is hugely varied in theme and subject matter and approach; it’s dark and funny and wise and heartbreaking, all about people, food, the earth and her plants and animals, and haunted by many ghosts and familiars. As mother of my own two boys, I notice one haunting in particular, by a sweet boy baby who morphs into a troubled son, darkly roiling a steadfast mother’s heart.

This fine collection is definitely worth your time – go read it!

Update: You can hear Diane talking to Dave Bonta and Kristin Berkey-Abott about the collection and poetry in general here. Another reason to go and take a listen is that they say nice things about me in there too (thanks, guys!)

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

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