Dark Lyric Affair
Larissa Szporluk’s Traffic with Macbeth (Tupelo Press, 2011).
Larissa Szporluk’s new collection Traffic with Macbeth reminds us of those instances when a text we are reading seems to inhabit our every move and word, and its behavior infiltrates our style and approach. Szporluk takes it to heart when Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, questions the first Witch, “…How did you dare/To trade and traffic with Macbeth/In riddles and affairs of death…” (Macbeth III.5). Szporluk willingly lets much of the play’s tones, poses, and germs of sound take up residency in her psyche. Deeply in the grip of the imaginative fantasies offered by its characters, she ponders our own unchecked and anarchic impulses:
the sea’s toys
and we coax
our weak thoughts
and poke things
we ought not,
like loose necks
that clout hearts.
Here she uses the universal “we,” but she often uses the first person and plunges headfirst confronting distorted desires that see the in a kind of chthonic dimension.
This book is masterful in rendering what I might call a “descent conceit” and many poems here enact that figurative journey with startling diction and textures as they “tour in the dung.” She probes subterranean realms: “Here the blind have/sight and wish it not/and belly-crawl/to fool the light…” (Orrido”) and “If I pushed my face/into the dirt and gulped,” (“Nihilist”). In these instances more knowledge, albeit dark, is gained in hopes of a more wholly integrated, and perhaps visionary, lyric self.
It’s crucial for her that the aural effects of these utterances embody the raucous expressions of underworld spirits and beings. The close internal rhymes, Anglo-Saxon-like lexicon, and two and three beat lines transfix us with their incantatory black wit. Her relentlessly dense, alliterative language comes from deep in the throat and simulates its own little earth spasms: “The loser rots,//the sweet black gore/of cricket joy/expressed to death//in one dumb glop” (“Mouth Honor”).
In “Witch-Catalogue” Szporluk emulates those figures who are alluringly wicked then taunts by channeling their skewed flirtation and riddling elocution, . “To draw down the moon/when the moon wants down–/whose boast’s that?//To crisscross the cross?/Flummox the salmon?” Szporluk fluidly morphs into other entities and animals and speaks with their tongues much like in the riddle tradition in which the thing itself offers clues to its identity: . “If they would/raid my mouth–/my rheum of drool//pooling through/the marble eaves,” (“Gargoyle”) and “I can whish/any bird into gore, abort/any fate, con wind/to kill corn. . I wear/a wood kilt…”(“Windmill”). In her array of perversely enchanted dramatic monologues she conjures in order to confront.
And what must she confront? Perhaps her aim is to embrace her own savagery and the savagery inflicted upon herself. Her own lyric voice is wedded to the tumultuous body and mind of the play, and she continues faithfully to follow Lady Macbeth’s invocation, “Come thick night.” In doing so, many poems also examine the familial realm and her own children. These offspring may also be figures for what her lyric voice spawns. As a poet, Szporluk defiantly utilizes a highly wrought and, one might even say, “possessed” lyric utterance. Her voice does not embrace the currents of idioms and casual speech often heard in poetry today. Her brave stance is such that she engages with perpetrators of voice-punishment, these products of her own summoning and in the end, chooses them: “Rather neck/the airy waif of punishment//than hum the skull/of puppy love remembered” (“Tantalus Gossips”).
Reviewed by Molly Bendall
Molly Bendall is the author of After Estrangement, Dark Summer, Ariadne’s Island and most recently, Under the Quick.