by Michael Porwoll, 2019-2020 @LA Events Intern
“There was a comfort in this shared reality,” Dorothea Lasky read to an at-capacity audience at Literary Arts for Lit Crawl 2019. “This shared imagination.”
Animal, Lasky’s new book of lyric lectures released by Wave Books last month, strings together an unlikely assortment of themes to trace the big mysteries of self and— according to her own coinage— the metaphysical I. These larger questions are reached through a deceptively plainspoken fusion of memoir, hierophantic prose, poetry, criticism, phenomenology, and lyrical analyses on the topic of ghosts, colors, animals, and bees. Beginning with the “ghosts” section, Lasky described sleepless nights in an empty room that lead to an encounter with an apparition– “another dimension of being”– whose meaning was gradually tilted through a kaleidoscope to offer, perhaps, ghost-as-muse, ghost-as-fear, or ghost-as-love. “It’s not important to me to try and figure out if what I saw was real or an apparition,” she read. “…what may have been a real image of my ghost had weight in my brain. It took up space in my brain,” and later, “With love, isn’t it love that we have felt, even when the physical reality has passed? Still, love is felt so clearly and never-endingly, without sometimes so much as a sight of the beloved. We don’t need to see or touch a person to love them until the day we die.”
The next section, “animals,” depicted both regular animals and Jim Henson’s Muppet, Animal, as representative of primal fear. What is real versus fake or unbelievable; what is self versus fear, self versus reflection or fiction? are all questions which seem to snowball upon and rearrange one another. “For many years, my worst fear was an image of Animal [in a Viewfinder], suspended in blankness, looking back at me,” Lasky began, both welcoming and circumventing the audience’s amusement. “It is the intense gaze of passion I have always wanted and feared. Animal and his puppet eyes needed me in that blank space just like my reader needs me.” By facing and unpacking the massive implications dormant in this irrational but persistently tyrannical symbol of childhood fear, Lasky, who holds a doctorate in Creativity and Education from the University of Pennsylvania, is able to define in herself, the core realm of creativity, a center of gravity to which she can moor related works and revelations. Reading Anne Sexton’s “Cigarettes And Whiskey And Wild, Wild Women,” which concludes, “do I not look in the mirror these days and see a drunken rat avert her eyes?” Lasky discovers “an extreme empathy through animalization.” Primal fear is embraced as perhaps symbiotic to primal creativity or identity liberation. And in the post-modern tradition, the mirror– the reader, the observer, the multitudinous gazes as defined from dizzying angles– is also implicated in the process of facing these metaphysical “truths.” Referring next to Emily Dickinson’s brush with death, as symbolized as a snake in, “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass,” Lasky said, “Lots of poets see a poem as a place to demonstrate the interaction between the persona and the animal, and to become one with the animal. This is a way that poetry can teach us to be human.” The mirror can also be death, as in Gordon Grice’s The Book of Deadly Animals, which tells of an American herpetologist dying of a snake bite. “A strange fate where animal and human are together through dying.”
Lasky then read five poems, “Do You Want To Dip The Rat?” “The Green Lake,” “Love Is Like a Butterfly,” “Creativity as an Answer to the Question of Hate,” and “Twin Peaks,” whose final moments return– after verses and verses of vernal exuberance– to the thematic refrain, “Do you want to soak the rat completely in oil before we eat it?”
The full work is available here through Wave Books.