The “other” world is a refrain throughout Dorothea Lasky’s startling new collection Thunderbird, which seeks the origins of creativity in the dark corners of anger, frustration, and even boredom. “I don’t live in this world,” Lasky writes (in “Death and Sylvia Plath”). “I already live in the other one.” These second worlds are easy to “breeze” into (“When you breeze upon the other world / O you are already there / O you are already there”); alternately, they seem impossibly insular (“Sweet animal, they locked us in this life / But I think we still have time before we have to get out of it”). In a book of flights—“Thunderbird” references a Native American spirit, but Lasky also conjures birds, planes, wind, and the mind’s movements—travel means to relinquish control. To disembody:
To not breathe anymore, to be the thing
To be the thing being breathed
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To not contain color, to be color
To not make sound, to be sound
To not have language, to echo, to plan language
To be the stream of words
Through brash, direct statements, Lasky creates a transparency of thought. A few of her meditations: “What is murder / This is a very interesting poem to write”; “Why is it a black life?”; “Why are people so cruel? / I mean this as a serious question.” Or: “What if I lost all those things / Humor, wit, beauty // And there was nothing left of me.” The paths of these interrogations propel us onward (because, because, because, Lasky writes). If the mind is “the red bird endlessly flying,” then Lasky’s speaker is unafraid to open her wingspan. Or to leave her logic exposed:
I am coming from the devil
Living in the devil’s house
Eating of the devil’s food
Am I devil?
Whether devilish, monstrous, “gendered,” or reptilian, Lasky’s speaker describes her separation from life (“What is it that when I am feverish / The rest of the world is not hot”) in terms of her nature. In “this world,” she is often misunderstood. “Because even when I mean well / I am still a criminal,” she explains in “Why It Is A Black Life.” “Because I am not human / And they are” she posits in “Everyone Keeps Me From My Destiny.” “Maybe he could feel the wild cool blood in me,” she writes of her catcaller (“I Had a Man”), “And it frightened him.” To travel from line to line as Lasky does, you must be a wanderer with no single world, ideology, or book to “nest in.” Yes, Lasky writes, “The wildest thing about me is my arrogance / which turns to anger / Over language.” Elsewhere her wildness is linked to survival: “I want to be so wild they can’t lock me up.”
As Publishers Weekly points out, Lasky has ideas about what poetry can do (“Poets should get back to writing some crazy shit // Let’s say whatever it is we please”), but there is a special aside here for female artists and their voices: “Why do young women like Sylvia Plath? / Why doesn’t everyone?” And in “Gender” Lasky writes:
It took me a long time to realize that my anger was a gendered one
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I write poems about boobs and dicks
But my anger comes not from this
but from being silenced.
If creativity comes from passing between borders, a sort of dying, then “Writing is death” and “Artists make hell.” “What could be more dramatic than a last breath,” Lasky wonders. One possibility is the silence that Lasky fears: “the worst thing of all.”
No, not to not have a voice anymore
But to have a voice in its entirety
Never going away
Or this way or that way
Death is everywhere in Thunderbird, but “nothing is permanent.”