The Poetry of Joseph Zaccardi







Joseph Zaccardi's review of the Homelessness of Self by Susan Terris

the Homelessness of Self,
written by Susan Terris.
Arctos Press 2011. ISBN 978-0-9725384-1-1.
Soft cover, 81 pages, $16.00

The first thought that strikes me about the Homelessness of Self is the title. When I read any book of poetry I listen to the title and let what the title evokes sink in. The word homelessness I found compelling, because when I read it to myself or aloud something remarkable happens - the word works slowly off my tongue and mind. The word with all its power and impact cannot be rushed. The homeless body to Susan Terris is threefold: the person who has shelter but feels disconnected from society; the person who is forced to live by his or her wits on the street, on a park bench, the doorway of a business etc., and the person who has chosen, albeit by necessity, to live a wandering life. All three examples show the potential dangers and harshness of where one is looked upon with wariness and suspicion. And then there’s the masterful dichotomy between that and the other word in the title, self. Certainly the self’s body can be homeless but the self’s soul or spirit is quite another thing, for the homeless self is firstly one’s own reflective consciousness, the unified being in a world that seeks truth and answers. And secondly, the self takes responsibility for its thoughts and actions, the subjective self as knower. Terris’ poems expose the true self (mind) as the self-observed, the physical self as observed by society.

Terris’ poetry is an affirmation of life, of the progression of the human spirit through all the twists and turns that are intrinsic to everyone. She speaks without apology to the very consciousness of the birth of the self, both physical and spiritual, as the loss suffered after leaving the mother’s womb, this tearing up by the roots, and how everything that follows is a struggle to survive and understand. Delight and sorrow coexist, love and desire interact. She asks the all-important question: shall people be allowed to live the decent, fully human life which all humans crave? The world of the newborn, once thriving in a protected space, has been cut loose and left to wander a world that can be unwelcoming and frightening. The compliant naivety of a child accepts as natural the unnatural cruelty and desperation of the human experience: for instance, in “Forbidden Fire” (p.3), where there is “A fort, a blanket, matches / Like all secrets a place of omission - ” she writes of a “spring-wild pond for girls,” an organic-seeming landscape where their “…print dresses, / Slick with pond scum, dry on low bushes…” but then “… what of the man who crosses / The trestle, dark of face, foul of breath?” This is the stuff of nightmares. The man backs away. These are female demons, he mutters “succubi.” Susan Terris’ landscapes are her points of view: the lakes, the ponds, the dreamscapes et al, but they are not conventional landscapes; rather they are places of intimacy, loneliness, isolation and, yes, love. They yield their inner meanings in an unhurried and personal way; they have social implications and social significances. They quietly subvert long-held assumptions of childhood and maturity. They use language as the proverbial sword in the natural world and the fantasies about the natural world. Homelessness and self melded, body and soul conjoined. These poems are, in a word, inspired.

Terris is the conjurer of past, present and future relationships, and, as both, spectator and participant is tugged back to these realities. This is a precarious balancing act, holding in suspense her conflicts: building upon myths (Persephone), fairy tales (Alice in Wonderland) and poems from the past. Her poetry is rich with echoes: in “The Path to Innisfree,” I hear Yeats’ longing for peace and tranquility; in “Fish of Her Dreams,” Bishop’s power to “let the fish go.” There are so many layers, each with a fresh look and interpretation, they reopen, reawaken, reexamine.

The poems derive energy from their dialogue between body and mind of what might have been and what might be. “How does a child become not image but vessel -” (p.8), the poet asks in “Tasseling,” a poem of conflict and comparison of her desire for boys and cars, her emergence into puberty: “The corn may be / tasseling but it is not ripe.”, an allusion, I think, to the fruition of the corn in the field that will feed and nourish, and to Dorothy, the girl whose destiny was to journey to Oz and return to the womb of Kansas; this is the hate / love between “Daughters and mothers…Mothers and daughters” (p,7). The mother must be left behind, the “Daughter-girl” (p.9), held aloft in the tornado of the coming of age and the process of living her life in her own way.

She reimagines in the first poem, “No Stork” (p.4), the birth and separation from the mother, and works her way to a couple’s unity in “Marriage License” (p.72), to the couple who should be one but are in fact two, again her argument with the self - the self of homelessness, the separation. “Marriage is a cave…” this poet writes in her last poem, “…The shadows on the wall are larger than I am.” Terris struggles with the boredom and disappointments of marriage, the “minefields” where she weighs the pros and cons of monogamy. She comes full circle in favor of it. It will work, she says, because of “the three words” she does not name; she leaves that for the reader to fill in. She writes that it is you (the parent) that our children don’t forget, and that they believe in the three words, they believe in forever, “at least as it applies to you.” And by example, to us.

First appeared in Home Planet News, 2011

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