Page 25


REVIEW News from the Van Allen Belt BY PAUL CHRISTENSEN New and Selected Poems, 1961-1996 By Rochelle Owens Junction Press 189 pages, $20. Luca: Discourse on Life and Death By Rochelle Owens, . introduction by Marjorie Perloff Junction Press 220 pages, $20. In the Aviary of Voices By Karin Lessing mind and emotions; an anarchist, a primitivist, someone whose most ardent wish is to reunite the powers of primordial human nature, with all its blood and gore and cannibalist desires, to that airy, rational, goody-two-shoes ego in us, and so end the further separation of body from soul begun in the Renaissance. Lessing is cool, reserved, an observer of small details, who writes at the quiet end of Chopin’s etudes and preludes, who is reluctant to finish phrases for fear the idea would sink the weightless music of her thoughts. And yet both poets are out there circulating out of the range of most American readers, in aVan Allen belt of literacy which the common culture refuses to visit or even to acknowledge. The truth is, we need their voices, to remind us of the depth and range of human nature, how much larger it is than we allow for, and how high we could go in our thoughts if we could let go of shopping malls and forego the burgers and fries and TV once in a while. Owens could have prepared us better for the atrocities of September 11, by reminding us that when some of our energies become unresponsive to the needs of the larger world, we should expect some violent revolt by invisible hands. She has told us in all of her many books that anything that verges too far in one direction gets lost, gets out too far and begins to lose its way, can even die. Her entire critique of America is that we are on some arctic trek into the final limits of ego expansion and have left behind common sense, wild nature, and a healthy dose of realism concerning our animal passions. Left behind as well are all those cultures we don’t know the languages of, religions we don’t practice, values we don’t care about, and inequalities we blithely ignore. Owens is now in her sixties and has been writing prolifically since the late 1950s; she wrote some intriguingly different poems that were picked up by the early “Deep Image” poets, who edited a magazine called Trobar. The deep imagists, who included Jerome Rothenberg, Clayton Eshleman, George Schwerner, Robert Kelly, David Antin, and Diane Wakoski, were following Jung’s idea that our imaginations were part of the collective mind across time, and that this part of us didn’t evolve or change, but remained essentially primitive and animistic. The rhetoric could get messy at times, but the rewards were an American language that had never been seen before, a mixture of magic realism and Salvador Dali landscapes. Luca: Discourse obi Life ‘and Death Leonardo daVinci \(called Lenny in the man, and the making of hj painting, Mona Lisa, which involves ‘,not only Mona but her friend Flora, and Flora’s six-year old son. Other figures . include Luca, Lenny’s mentor, and the later entry of Siggy, or Sigmund Freud, who will analyze Leonardo’s genius and latent homosexuality in cold, clinical, largely destructive terms. Leonardo is Owens’ vehicle for studying the Renaissance mind, with its faith in science and its destructive urgesthe festering cadaver of a woman is present in the studio during the painting Of Mona Lisa. Leonardo ogles Flora’s son, who wears lederhosen and is both a cherub and a sinister reminder of one consequence of Renaissance idealism, Hitler. The two models hate Leonardo, who makes them endure endless hours of humiliation and stick-rigid posing. Mona is told not to part her lips because of her long, protruding teeth, the result of gum disease and poverty. At times it seemed to her she looked like other women wearing a baffled look her brain retained an image the very long teeth due to gum deterioration her exhaling suddenly looking in the middle instead holding her head to the side Flora said she was looking for her shves posed like a young paysanne with smiling little eyes blushing nostrils o two poets could be more opposite in nature than Rochelle Owens and Karin Lessing. Owens is manic, hysterical, a plunger into abysses of the 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/18/02