- Frozen Charlotte by Susan de Sola
Susan de Sola writes in a whirl of color and imagination that leads us, surreptitiously, to deeper truths, both light and dark, about our own lives. Her use of rich language, rhyme and meter, and unusual topics makes reading her new collection, Frozen Charlotte, a dance through a unique landscape.
The poem "The Tulips" reveals de Sola's delight in and mastery of language. In this blank verse ode, the flowers are brought home from a farmer's market and displayed in a vase on a table. De Sola captures their almost ridiculous beauty, describing them as "great goblets, plush concavities" and "blowsy, lipsticked interlocutors." Even though the flowers are technically dead, no one thinks of them this way at first: "What had this red exuberance / to do with death?" Once all the petals have fallen to the table, she reveals what's left: "Slim green stalks / with small white crowns stand bare. Abstract." De Sola's alliterative lines are a pleasure to the ear and a tribute to her imagination even when looking at the simplest of things: "A Dutch-bobbed slouching flapper of a flower, / so modernist and sleek, a silhouette. / A flower a cartoonist might invent."
Many of her poems are metrical, and she sprinkles internal and end rhymes throughout, which adds a song-like quality. "Preserved Things," the first half of "Two-Part Song," is a heterometrical paean with echoes of Hopkins and Whitman: "I sing now of preserved things, of whorls in wood / and table rings; calico corn, gold and red, / like relic teeth in an ancient head." While the items are presented ultimately as "changeless, / outside flow. The answer to a riddle / I wished not to know," the sounds of the lines, as well as the specific examples, are playful and engaging—who doesn't have a jar of pearl onions in the back of the refrigerator and a bag of old peas in the freezer?
To this, add things from the fridge, surviving on their arctic ridge,a jar of pearl onions on a shelf,a wishbone drying on a sill—probably it lies there still.Let us add the things that freeze:an ice age of meat and peas.
A poem in anapestic dimeter, "Closely Observed Postman," immediately called up a childhood memory for me: Freddy the postman, who always gave me the thick red rubber bands that de Sola refers to in her poem. But the idea that he leaves them dangling from tree branches as a [End Page 290] sign of his very existence is marvelously conveyed in these simple anapestic dimeter ballad stanzas:
Each round, openmouthed,elasticized spherespeaks for the postman:Look well, I was here.
De Sola's meter isn't always song-like, though. "Bowl of Sea Glass" starts out in headless iambic pentameter, but an inversion in the third line introduces a ragged meter mimicking the action: "The sea batters them, as if a rough sculptor, / and not the conductor of impeccable measures." (I like the poet's joke at her own expense about the less-than-impeccable meter.) She continues with the pentameter, lulling us into the rhythm and the sonnet-like feel of the poem, until we are brought up short by a 15th line of six feet: "The sea lifts, pounds the glass. Insists on randomness." The poem reminds us not to become complacent and think the sea, or the poet, will behave as we expect.
De Sola has fun using Cary Grant movies as a way of revealing deeper truths. In "The Light Gray Suit, North by Northwest," her light-hearted tone captures the style of 1940s movies, where men are roughed up but "the suit wears well," and women climb Mt. Rushmore while staying "nyloned all the reel." She gives a humorous nod to the film's need to remain decorous, all while maintaining the iambic pentameter: "Now Eve's in silk paj—CUT!—a scene suppressed!" But she goes beyond the story to gives us a glimpse inside the suit, to the man who, of course...