A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in the future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 17, due out in fall 2013.//
In today’s poetry that is often self-conscious, ironic, clever, ambivalent about its self while trying to be serious about its self, and/or closed off, it’s a pleasure to find poems, “within their greeting song,” the honest and clear experiences of image and language. In Ingrid Swanberg’s Ariadne & Other Poems (Bottom Dog Press, 2013), there are many images. There are images with substance that satisfy the mind and the belly, images moving between intellect and intuition or existing in between, and complex images that stir emotion and thought.
The poem “the body of Dionysos” is an example of images moving between intellect and intuition.
nowhere have I been so shaded than bearing your weight hidden from the world
The first line indicates the speaker is lost or homeless or without purpose, but in the next line this gets taken away, as the speaker is some place, and it may be a comfortable place as it has shade. The first two lines also move from a possessive and passive construct of being nowhere to a passive construct with the implication that the speaker is somewhere, but the place is the shade, which has no weight or substance. In line three’s active voice, we receive the “weight” with the implication of substance, but that substance is taken away in the concluding line. The experience is moving from things that don’t exist to things that do exist and in between. Additionally, in the last line the reader also realizes another movement. A movement of meaning. The word “shaded,” the reader will realize, may also come to mean something like “deceived.” She lives under his (Dionysos’) shadow in both protective and deceptive realms. There’s also the movement between myth and today’s world. I personally like to read these poems with a deliberate ignorance of Greek mythology to ensure the poems speak to me today in my now experience, and they do. But with a knowledge of the myths, more meanings are had, new perspectives of the myths are created, and more movement is created.
In the poem “the river is rising,” the reader can experience this bridging of two worlds and experience the complicated image building I mentioned above, as well. The second stanza provides a good starting place to observe this complication:
the white orchards of your city where you dream me bloom
What’s blooming here is “the white orchards.” Or that’s what at first seems to be blooming. When I leave that stanza, however, I feel overwhelmed because it feels like there’s more that’s blooming. In fact, the city blooms and the “me” blooms. It’s all blooming, which is why “bloom” is on its own line yoking the previous three lines into it. This complication continues into stanza three, which begins: “inside my heart”. Here, “inside my heart” acts as a pivot. It concludes the previous stanza – white orchards, city, and the speaker bloom inside the speaker’s heart – and it begins the third stanza:
inside my heart rain pours neon calligraphy onto the night street
Inside the speaker’s heart, rain pours. Inside the speaker’s heart there is city imagery with neon lights and a street at night. In fact, this poem keeps building like this. It’s able to build because there are only two instances of punctuation (both commas) after the opening line that ends with a period: “I have looked everywhere.” If this were a conventional poem, there would be more punctuation, but the poem limits the use to two commas to indicate time shifts or shifts in thoughts, like leaps. For instance:
I have searched everywhere the syllables and unyielding ciphers of riverbanks, your name pressed into the bitter clay inside my heart
Here, the speaker’s searching turns directly inward because, perhaps, of the conscious leap into language: “the syllables and unyielding ciphers.” Here the image mixes abstract and concrete. And in the next stanza, the speaker finds the person with another woman:
o leave her turning in her black dress where you lie adrift in her arms and you dream my blue
Where one might expect hostility or resentment to follow after this discovery, the poem stays in its passionate tone because, as we soon realize, both the speaker and the other person are in the dream world. They were both looking for each other in their dreams, or at least the speaker was searching for the other person. We then realize the period in the opening line was the end-stop to consciousness. The poem turned inward after that, and at the end it blooms outward from the dreaming world into the conscious world:
we will ride into the city of white blossoming trees under the night
This poem is also a modern-day re-rendering of Ariadne’s dream involving Theseus and Dionysos. The reader should keep the Ariadne and Dionysos myths under consideration when they read many of these poems, especially the “Ariadne’s tomb” section, but the poems are written so well that they speak to two worlds: our world, especially those with limited knowledge of the myths; and the mythic world. The poems in this section exist in both those worlds, and I was caught in the middle like waking from a dream I didn’t want to wake from, but I did wake. When I did wake, there were more poems where I did not need the knowledge of myth but where “the door between worlds / swings open.” And that door is swinging between poem and reader and swinging between poet and poet creating the myth of a self. I enjoyed going in and out of all the worlds in Swanberg’s Ariadne & Other Poems, which often felt like contemporized deep image poems.//