Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Turning Away from the PastBoilermaker | Lawbreaker | Kalihi, 1952 | Specter
Spider Season by Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Publisher: Cold River Press
We barely notice the sirens careening past the parking lot. It’s after 10 p.m. and my coworker and I have just finished closing up the store; our location of this corporate chain has its own lot, and we’re lingering because she’s telling me that she’s a medium, or that she’s at least able to make contact sometimes, often. After telling her about the recent passing of my grandmother, she tells me that no one who dies is ever truly gone. They are always near. And this feels strange to me at this moment because on my scheduled breaks I have been reading Susan Kelly-DeWitt’s newest collection of poems, Spider Season, and it is a collection haunted by death, covered in “the dew of the dead.”
It’s partially literal, within three pages we are “crossing the Acheron,” just before entering séances; but it is really pervasive throughout the entire work, like a kind of background radiation, or a low and constant hum. “Even the voiceless bones in the cemetery woke and each/ silent grave began singing” so that it’s not just the living that try to reach beyond their material boundaries. In these poems the dead are also reaching out. See, Kelly-DeWitt is a mystic poet here, and these poems are full of crossings and signs, and an animistic view of the world expressed. However, where this usually means believing in a kind of life for all things, here it is more apt to say there is death for all things.
But death is not an end to the discussion for Spider Season. Just as my coworker was saying, it is just another phase, and in these poems we see the dead rise in dreams and the living search for messages from them. The issue then isn’t caesura, it is proximity. The issue is the distance between that which is noumenal, and that which is phenomenal. It is between what can be named, “Kingdom – Animalia / Phylum – Arthropoda / Class – Insecta…” and that which is unknown and perhaps unknowable. The world then is not dying as much as it is slipping out of reach, and this drives the constant tension between living and dead, dreams and waking, and hopes and facts.
It might be too easy to turn a skeptical eye toward these poems. In a time when search engines can serve you facts while you wait at a stop light, it is tempting to question the place of mysticism. What relevance do the dead have on the living? and how are clouded dreams relevant to concrete waking? What need is there for hope when we have so many facts? Skepticism can be a powerful drug that promises to open more possibilities, but the reductionism of such lines of thought can leave one ironically unprepared for the vastness of reality. These poems, in keeping attention to specifics like speciation, but looking for more in death, are attempting to take in that vastness.
From Night Shift to Chernobyl to Some Say, these are dark poems, and yet they are hopeful, and that is valuable. As I stood in the parking lot, with Spider Season under my arm, talking about death, sirens in the distance, I realized that these poems were necessary. To dismiss hopes as mutually exclusive from facts, or to question the way “Caladium leaves are like hearts” is to miss the value of these poems. These poems are a comfort. They do not dismiss darkness but they do not abandon themselves to it. These poems are a hand to hold as we “put one blind foot before the other / as we must all do sometimes.”
Stuart L. Canton
Stuart L. Canton lives in Sacramento, California. His work has been published several times in local journals including WTF!?, The American River Review, and Poetry Now. He is a recipient of the Bazzanella Award for Poetry from California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) where he is studying literature. Stuart is a section editor for The Calaveras Station Review, the literary journal of CSUS. Recently, he has been making an effort to drink less coffee and more tea, and he has been researching deep ecology and sake brewing.
Susan Kelly-DeWitt finds poems everywhere, or perhaps they find her, falling around her like snowflakes or cascading leaves: rivers, doorknobs, graveyards, dragonflies, all alight in a language that is inventive and freighted with attention. “Your gull-colored mood,” “the dragonflies…their stickpin glit darting before me,” crows circling "like black Conestogas”—you get the idea. She sees the world her own way and writes her mind. And this is exactly what good poets do. - Frank Gaspar
In this brilliant book, pure music is charged with an emotion unmistakably real. The images here are alive; they are vivid and sensual. Unlike much contemporary poetry that sounds professorial, Kelly-DeWitt’s voice is one that knows, as Lorca knew, that the only thing a poet is a professor of is the “five senses.” Like Rodin, about whose work she writes so beautifully, Kelly-DeWitt understands that an artist strips “passion / to dark bone” and forges “arduous coupling from / the soul’s lack.” This is a wise, beautiful collection of poems that will stay with you long after you finish the book. - Ilya Kaminsky
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