Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: Diverting Angels

Deborah Diemont
Dos MadresPress, 2012
45 pp/42 poems

I first had the pleasure of encountering Deborah Diemont’s work when she submitted a few pieces to a literary magazine for which I serve as managing editor. She had my attention immediately because one of the poems was about a drawing by Vincent van Gogh, a favorite artist of mine. That poem (“Sien with Cigar”) appears in Diemont’s sonnet-filled collection, Diverting Angels. But Diemont focuses on far more than art here; she also covers such topics as childhood, womanhood, travel, nature, love, family, and culture.

The opening poem, “A Modest Blindness” (named for a Borges essay), reflects this variety of subject matter in its exuberant celebration of color--a poem-as-kaleidoscope. In fact, the majority of the sonnets contain some reference to color, thereby invoking not only sound through her rhymes and emotions through her themes, but also visual cues which give us a good sense of place. These sensory hints become especially important in poems where interior lives are the focus, giving the reader an idea of the physical surroundings when emotional matters are at the fore.

Diemont excels at discussing such things. Some of her strongest, most devastating poems center on women: “To Dye or Henna,” a rumination on chemical hair alteration; “Grimm,” calling to mind Plath’s “Mirror” in its focus on distorted reflections; “Untitled,” showing how the issues females face as adolescents (body image and criticism, especially) carry over into adulthood; and, most poignantly, “Grandmother,” in which a mysterious, semi-broken lady bequeaths to her granddaughter things that may--or may not--damage her but are beloved nonetheless.

The craft on display here is also commendable. While I am not personally a fan of rhyme--I often find it too sing-songy or poorly executed--I appreciate some of the ways in which Diemont plays with it. For example, the rhyme scheme in the second paragraph of “Housemate” reads thus: back/life/bike/grass; this bends the rhyme in a way that pleases my ear and helps Diemont make the sonnet form her own.

For this reader, though, Diemont’s crowning achievement in Diverting Angels is “The Poet in Victoria’s Secret™.” Here she provides the reader with a poem that works so well as a metaphor for writing good poetry that I found myself experiencing an actual fit of jealousy during the reading of it. If even a quarter of the poetry being published nowadays sent me--or any reader--into such paroxysms of admiration, the literary landscape would be a brighter place.

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