Diane Seuss’s fourth book of poems, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, is anything but still. This collection showcases a poet who is writing some of the most animated and complex poetry today ... The distance traveled between the first poem and the last is an unfathomable glittering distance, yet by the end of the book, the speaker (and the reader) realizes that running towards the past and leaving the past are ultimately the same thing ... One of the most interesting aspects of Seuss’s poetry is how it showcases the speaker’s sparkling riffing mind ... Seuss’s poems aspire to complicate, drawing connections between seemingly unrelated things, flowing in and out and back and away from their initial triggers.
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, exquisitely layers self, art, and language, while struggling with femininity, violence, and the question of the gaze ... But more than the raw shame of being a body, Seuss gets to the core of the daily violence of inhabiting the world; she gets to the daily maintenance and indignities of those bodies ... In traveling through these poems, we are slowly exposed to the literal painting that haunts this collection until, finally, we can see the full image at the same time that the speaker finally escapes her frame. These concepts speak volumes to the palpable constraint of the poems, as well as to the gaze ... Throughout Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, Seuss demonstrates remarkable tenderness toward her figures and speakers, exquisite control over form and design, and has given us, her readers, another exquisite collection, where visual art and poem are combined into an inextricable whole.
Impressively, Seuss’s gaze is not only at home ranging from an eighteenth-century painting to a Walmart parking lot, but able to pull taut the threads between them. The result is a virtuosic treatise on art, gender, class, loss, and the hungers brought to bear on each ... Seuss becomes a master of 'rhopography' while complicating the genre’s gendered implications ... Throughout the book, Seuss’s portraits of women work to confront a long-troubled history of representation ... paced both confidently and effectively. The reader moves between sections the way they might move between rooms in a museum, or across the frame of a painting, at once invited to dwell within and connect across.
Throughout this rich collection, the speaker uses art to show how women and the lower class have been portrayed and framed, so to speak, by social norms and expectations. She challenges long-held ideas about worth, privilege and beauty, and creates an alternative landscape through self-portraits and gothic still lifes ... The poems, ranging from darkly challenging to direct and moving, require readers to levitate above their own assumptions and embrace a world that is, in many ways, 'a paradise of vagaries.'
With command of language, humor, and emotional intensity, Seuss’s work finds its home in art, philosophy, satire, and semantics, and suggests an informal salon where anything goes when considering art and aesthetics in a modern world ... These poems are so full of meaning that to try to describe them feels futile, as if descriptions might defuse their glow and remove the reader’s potential to discover each piece for themselves ... Each of these poems...recalls real lives and recognizes that irony is often a necessary component of grief ... In a number of poems, each line is a sentence, perhaps bucking the conventions of caesura and line breaks. In others, punctuation is dispensed with, and lyrical narratives emerge in streams that appear in blocks, margins flush on each side of the page. Seuss uses vernacular to unveil what lies beneath language and metaphor, to scrape the underside of meaning ... The terrible beauty of this collection is that it shows how necessary art is in helping us get through this life.
There are 12 'Self-Portraits' and 5 'Still Lives.' Although conventional ekphrasis is confined to the consideration of works of art, Seuss expands it, subjecting her own body, various possessions, and even the double helix to a kind of ekphrastic attention. The tone of these poems is reminiscent of Amy Gerstler, and she name checks Kenneth Patchen. A group of poems with a darker, occasionally ominous tone might be characterized as trailer-park gothic ... The situation of the body, and situating the body in a degraded landscape that is nonetheless a home, might be the book’s principal theme, assuming that a book so various could be said to have one.