An evening with Diane Seuss

It is not often that you have the honor of listening to a poet who is introduced as having the “market on pee-based poetry.” It is even more rare for that poet to be a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Diane Seuss, who came to Colby last Tuesday to read from her award-winning poetry collection—Four-Legged Girl—captivated the audience in such a way that one audience member, Elise Ozarowski ’15, described the experience as if “[Seuss’] words were washing over you and bringing you into this very real surrealist universe that she’s created.”

Born to a working class family in Michigan City, Indiana, Seuss studied at Kalamazoo College— where she now teaches—before getting a masters in social work at Western Michigan University. She began teaching at Kalamazoo in 1988, publishing her first collection—It Blows You Hollow—in 1998 and her second—Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open—in 2010.

During the 45-minute reading, Seuss’ poetry often tangled with the grit of her time living in New York City when she was first becoming a poet, while also incorporating breathtaking imagery and lyricism into her work. One such example, in her poem “An occasion is a rare occasion,” Seuss ended with “Soon the sky will rain quarters…The milk / in the [cereal] bowl will go pink with the pinkness / of the stars. That will be an occasion.” Seuss’s ability to find occasions in the humblest moments of life makes

each poem accessible. This woman is not some Greenwich Village hipster who thinks she’s above you—she is the friend who articulates all of the emotion you’ve been feeling, the one who somehow understands whatever you have been through.

Many of the poems that Seuss read from Girl delved into her obsessions. During the Q&A portion of the talk, Seuss noted that “freaks obsess me,” and this line of thought led to the title of the book. Beyond that, Seuss chose to begin the collection with an epitaph by poet Lucille Clifton, which reads “see the sensational / two-headed woman / one face turned outward / one face / swiveling slowly in.” Seuss spoke about how Clifton was born with six fingers on each hand and—aside from Clifton’s beautiful work—Seuss said she is “interested in people with too many…” before trailed off.

This fascination with excess carries through much of her collection, exemplified by one of the poems she read, “It’s like this.” She wrote, “God’s point of view is that being God / is a lot like being Skinny Neckvessel, that is, really large / and really uncomfortable and filled with bitterness / and filled with pie.” The combination of excess with another one of her obsessions—“low down religion”—created a thrilling situation, where we in the audience could empathize with not only Skinny Neckvessel, but God.

By the end of the reading, the audience had a much better idea of why Seuss chose to write Four-Legged Girl. Seuss’ voice and writing throughout her work is abnormally confident and introspective, even though much of the collection revolves around her experience of “always feeling strange onto [myself ].” She deals with tragedy—the overdose death of “[her] junkie” boyfriend—and an impoverished childhood. She talks about her body difference, including her titanium leg—“I fell on black ice and destroyed my leg and my ankle.” While some people might shy away from sharing their scars with the world, Seuss is able to convince the audience to look through her eyes and empathize. While many could see her work as cynical, Seuss works to build humor into her poetry. As she put it, “a certain kind of humor is a survival technique.”

Leave a Reply