DIANE LOCKWARD: EVE'S RED DRESS
Lockward is never at a
her ingenuity is endless and varied.
In discovering the story
poems, she leaves no stone unturned,
no corner of the invented
unexplored. The dance
continues into the very
of the dancers’ toes and fingers.
is a poet who knows how to play. And in Eve’s Red Dress,
handsomely designed book from Wind Publications, she plays with
with the ironies and delights of the human condition. A
poet, former high school English teacher and current
for the Dodge Foundation and New Jersey Council On the Arts, Lockward
how to celebrate through skill and sheer joy in the music of words and
their multiple meanings, how to
hint at injury or loss without getting lost herself, or
losing the reader. The poetry is firmly grounded in the reality
the body, the physicality and vibrancy of the images. We know the who,
the where, the when, and yet every poem takes us unexpectedly to a
we have never been before.
poems which open each of the five sections of Eve’s Red Dress
a clue to the many-layered character of the book. The thread of
Genesis story is woven through them, shifting color, yes, but always
always setting off and influencing the course of the narrative with wit
and irony. And yet there is no doubt Eve is a real person,
we might have known. "Eve Argues Against Perfection" leads off
book; this Eve may once have dwelt in the Garden of Eden, but she
in the voice of an ordinary American: "Beguiled, my ass. I said
such thing." She is sassy and argumentative and out to
it like it is"; she won’t be silenced:
You say the serpent tempted me to eat.
You omit that he entered the Garden
on two legs and walked like a man.
of all five poems could be living in New Jersey, Lockward’s home, or in
any middle-class town or suburb — Massachusetts, Indiana, Oregon.
After Eve’s lover leaves her, in "Eve’s Diner and Road Stop,"
The first thing I do is swear
off men. Then I pack up my lingerie and point
the car west on Route 66 toward Paradise,
She finds a "real diner,"
a seat at the counter. You recognize the accuracy of her portrait
of the diner, the booths,
. . . a fly-specked calendar on the wall
and an old poster of Marilyn Monroe,
wind blowing up her skirt.
The surprise ending is
Jersey nor Nevada, but maybe something better than Eden: "Honey, you’re
on your way to Paradise."
Red Dress speaks in the voice of the dress itself, a sexy satiny
a device which enables the poet to convey the secret sensuousness of a
woman who has kept it hidden all her life ("her mother would dress her
in blue, / but she’s been blue so long.") Now, in the poem,
She reaches for me,
imagines how I would slide onto her
like skin . . .
. . . wants
to burst like a fireball onto the floor, spinning
and whirling, my skirt singing, Touch me and burn.
Eve wants to come out to the world, set things right, set things afire
if necessary, be her sexy self. One can’t help but be
of the first Eve, who argues that the Garden of Eden wasn’t all it was
cracked up to be.
housewife in "Eve’s Confession" cheats on her husband by eating his
fritter while he sleeps late, "his ribcage peacefully rising and
the kitchen filled with the essence of apple," her inability to resist
temptation another delightful resonance with the Genesis story. And
Own Garden" is "no bower of bliss." There are Japanese beetles,
. . . of course
there’s a snake. What’s a garden
without a snake, a spring,
and a fall?
versions of Eve are women we recognize from our own experience, and the
allusions to Genesis thus resonate through the whole book. This is
this is lover, this is child, this is the life we live outside the
is never at a loss — her ingenuity is endless and varied. In
the story in her poems, she leaves no stone unturned, no corner of the
invented landscape unexplored. The dance continues into the very tips
the dancers’ toes and fingers. Among my favorite poems is "Felis
Rufus," where the poet’s son, growing into adolescence, gradually
Long-legged, feet padded, he ravages
furniture, prowls the neighborhood
from dawn till dusk.
"My lynx-eyed son, my
boy," leaves home for his own wild life, as adolescents will, and the
mother is left to listen:
. . . Sometimes night breaks
with mournful howls, cantillations
come down from cold dark hills.
usual double-edged skill, she convinces us that the boy is
into a wildcat, while letting us savor his transformation as a metaphor
for growing up.
poems abound with the pleasure she takes in words and their usage: "Why
I Won’t Talk About Orgasms," "I’m Lonely As The Letter X," "On The Use
of Concrete Language," "Feeding Habits," are feasts of
In "Eating My Words" the reader is left chuckling in sheer enjoyment of
the virtuosity that calls forth syllables, words and combinations:
We eat predaciously, two athletes
of the soul, feeding our desire
to speak. Words tumble out in a stew
of confusion—bluegrass, hoodoo, bushwhack,
incubus and succubus, bedrock, serendipity,
silly putty, tatterdemalion, violet and lavender.
many of the poems are irreverent, funny, sexy, (some of my favorites:
Intimacy of Laundry," "The Study of Nature," "Eve’s Red Dress," "Why I
Won’t Talk About Orgasms") shadow is never wholly absent; it lingers
in this landscape of reverberant meanings, a testimony to the dark that
hides in the core of the human spirit, even in fathers, a dark with
it is clear the poet is well acquainted. She is not afraid to
openly, in the wrenching "Service for the Murdered Boy," or subtly and
indirectly, in "Miscarriage," or "After The Stillbirth": "She
down to bedrock, / like a miner, hit the hard place / at the center,
/ under the heft of stone, / unable to breathe." And she is
of unexpected tenderness, as in "The Changing Room."
a a sizzle of a book about Eve’s life after the Garden, the life she
on in our own century inside herself, in her body, her desires, her
and her lies, her griefs and her delights. The mythic underpinning of
five Eve poems leads us to sense that, however firmly rooted in
life and language they may be, they are about Everywoman, in any era,
any set of clothes.
there appears to be an "I" in the book who gradually reveals a
desires and some of her hidden injuries, this is not "confessional"
Lockward makes this clear in her marvelous final poem, "My Husband
Poetry," even if we had not realized already that her poetry is a
creation, an "art." She even tells us how she did it, starting
a seed of annoyance with the speaker’s husband "because he would not
my poems," to the full-blown details of the wife’s imagined escapade
a former boyfriend in a "quickie motel." In the denouement, she
her husband-creature shaking with sobs: "It is my husband paying
tribute to my art." No tabloid "True-Story," but snatches of
truth are what we sense behind these poems. With our delight in
and the scintillating language in which they are clothed, we may indeed
pay tribute to this poet’s art.
Diane Lockward. Eve's
Dress. Nicholasville, KY: Wind Publications, 2003.
© by Ann Silsbee