Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl takes its title from Rembrandt’s painting, a dark emblem of femininity, violence, and the viewer’s own troubled gaze. In Diane Seuss’s new collection, the notion of the still life is shattered and Rembrandt’s painting is presented across the book in pieces―details that hide more than they reveal until they’re assembled into a whole
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.
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.'