Susan Wood's skeptical elegy "The Lord God Returns" begins this way: "The day my friend died the ivory-billed woodpecker was maybe seen/ in Arkansas, a bird long-thought extinct." From there, the poem only reticently returns to the matter at hand, the poet's loss and her grief, focusing instead on the woodpeckers and, elsewhere, stranded ducklings, before taking a genealogical turn. There's something in that "maybe" that signals the poem's multiple layers of doubt. After each foray into speculative memorializing we return to the primacy of the living, those of us left behind, repeating two times, "Don't count me out."
The poem is in Wood's new book The Book of Ten, from which she will read at the next installment of the Poison Pen Reading Series. The book's title refers to a set of ten poems informed by Polish film director Krysztof Kieslovski's series The Decalogue, which concern themselves with each of the Ten Commandments.
Wood, who is a creative writing professor at Rice, writes poems that don't bother much with a lyrical sensibility and don't traffic in sensual descriptions. Instead, she finds wit and balance in carefully posed questions and contemplations, all in a personable and conjectural voice that is distinctly her own.
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California poet Allison Benis White joins Wood at Poison Pen. Her debut book Self Portrait with Crayon engages in a study of and conversation with the artist Edgar Degas, in order to sort through the poet's own fearful memories. In contrast to Wood, Benis White thoroughly inhabits the lyrical voice in prose poems that have been called "precise, declarative, intelligent."
To leaven all that poetry, fiction-writer Aja Gabel, a PhD student at UH's Creative Writing Program, will read from her work, stories that are humorous, sexy, and knowing.
The next Poison Pen Reading starts at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at Poison Girl Bar, 1641B Westheimer. For more information, call 713-527-9929 or visit www.poisonpenreadingseries.com.