I step out of the carriage, walk up the steps, and I can already hear the music. I enter through the wide doorway, and the music becomes louder. It is Susan Lewis’s language ball. I’m not sure if it’s a fancy-dress ball or a masquerade; I quickly realized I’d better be prepared for either, or both.
It’s called Zoom, and zoom you will, as you hurtle down made, partially made, and remade hallways of words, metaphors, images, and familiar phrases made unfamiliar by the substitution of expected words with the unexpected. Zoom is a romp, some 57 poems of a romp that confuses, bewilders, and ultimately entertains as you understand what the hostess of the ball is up to. She’s celebrating an honored guest.
Listen; the band is striking up a tune, or perhaps tuning up a strike. Or both, simultaneously, or separately. Does it matter? The dance begins.
or Madam, until you lose your head or mother
its shred, wrapped in mystery & mead. No
levity for this, your skid life. No mercy while
you bilk your betters, sent flying to spy on your
attempts to rise. Across the deep there are many
with nary a hook to hang on. While ever & anon
those lads with rainbow limbs snake through
the gloom. Another day another dolor. Not
to mince woulds, but this sibilance is skilling
While you who wish upon a stare — where
would you turn & fleetly tumble? The Burning
Dervish never knows whereof he’d speak, mute
As he is, spinning in his vicious circle, boring
His whole through our dark & dappled gaps.
Take a breath. Don’t rest too long. Some of the next tunes to be played are “Back at the Convocation of Lost Souls,” “Sunset in the Nursery,” “In Praise of Miscommunication,” “Monumentally Manumitted,” “Four Shortcuts to Amelioration,” and “In Praise of Lying.”
Your head will spin with this explosion (and implosion) of language. This is a ball about language, how we use or it (or don’t), and how it serves to both communicate and not communicate.
Lewis is the editor of the literary journal Posit. She received her MFA degree in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence University, and her BA and JD degrees from University of California-Berkeley. In addition to her several published books of poetry, she writes flash fiction, which has been performed on stage in Denver, and compositions with other artists performed at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. She lives in New York City. Zoom will be published on May 31.
The music is restarting. It’s time, once again, to dance with the words, the words played by the full orchestra of Zoom.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish