Poet Diane Lockward of West Caldwell, New Jersey, discusses her work at Chatham High School (Photo by Stephen Briggs)
Diane Lockward’s latest collection of poetry, Temptation by Water, is a book of dualities. These closely observed poems, which are largely free verse, are both witty and fierce and explore themes like domesticity and sensuality, grief and humor, aging and reawakening.
As Marjorie Tesser writes in the Harvard Review, “the theme of this book, set out in the epigraph and title poem, is temptation. In the first poems, desire has led to disaster. In ‘Imploded,’ the heart is compared to a destroyed building, ‘Just the soft mushroom of dust and ash, / the quiet collapse inside.’ Soon, the sources of hurt and disappointment become apparent: a lover who proved more flash than substance, a beloved child whose addictions have caused pain, a parent who is aging.”
“There are many temptations in these pages,” writes Barbara Daniels, “including a too-expensive sexy red dress and disturbing, desirable men, one of whom is so dangerous he comes with a warning label: “all trans fats and palm oil,” “a four-hour erection,” “the Mickey Finn of obsessions” (“Side Effects”).
Much has been lost and broken in the world of these poems, including a family that cannot be mended despite a repair crew that comes in to sew a woman’s mouth shut and teach her son how to shoot, and most tellingly, the spouse or lover who leaves despite prayers for a miracle. Lockward forces readers to look when they might not want to—at terrifying dreams, poisoned starlings plummeting from the sky, and the rosy anus of a beloved infant, “the lilliputian donut hole, / the dark star puckered like a kiss” (“It Runs This Deep”). She gazes unblinkingly at the bleeding leg of a young raccoon, young neighbors passionately tangled in each other’s arms, and dying butterflies captured for a science project. If a kill jar and a pin through the thorax of a butterfly are necessary, so be it, Lockward implies.
Here are four of my favorite poems from Lockward’s collection.
Enjoy your Sunday and happy birthday to Diane, whose birthday is Wednesday, May 15th!