44º ~ sleek gray skies, rain on the way, what serves as winter in the south
Warning! Danger! Hot Potato! Mary Biddinger's latest book, O Holy Insurgency, just out from Black Lawrence Press, is an incendiary, surreal testament to passion, to the desire to go beyond coupling and become one. It is a heart on fire and a speaker who claims in "Forensics," "All I wanted was for you to burn / me down."
That "you" is at the core of the book. The majority of the poems feature a first-person speaker telling and retelling both the creation myth of her Beloved and the story of their coupled love. In "Dyes and Stitchery," the speaker claims her first sight of the Beloved is when "you were just a sprig of asphodel" and later asks "Were you born / in a field, next to a barrel filled with burning // plywood?" Later, in "Route 31" when the speaker and her Beloved have met and become a couple, Biddinger knocks us out with "We flattened into // the soil, two switchblades out / of our handles and gleaming."
These are not romantic poems in tribute to love. These are electric, all-American (Detroit, Michigan made), fragmented, 21st century poems exploring both the desire to be twinned in love and the frantic, near-violent explosion of that desire. Biddinger uses the language of religion as a backdrop for her speaker's coming of age, which provides depth and gravity amidst the chaos. Here are some titles:
"Ode to Your Innocence"
"O Holy Insurgency"
and some without the religion
"Prelude to Our Escape"
"Where You Store the Gun at Night"
"Disturbance Near an Unnamed Creek"
"Committee of the Whole"
Here's a taste of "A Coronation"
... . Youthful
defiance was best demonstrated
by my mouth's insubordination
in times of dire panic. Translated:
no measure to calculate the drift
of my lips down your back.
And from "A Very Hard Time"
A man on the television noted
difficulties, the new trouble
with air, schoolgirls loosing
their braids in directions
that could only mean evil.
Do not open this book expecting a neat, tidy narrative of love. Instead, expect bits and pieces tumbling and spilling, disparate images slammed together and throwing sparks.