March 26 @ 6:00 pm
City Lights and Graywolf Press present
Diane Seuss celebrating launch of her new collection
Modern Poetry: poems
published by Graywolf Press
Diane Seuss’s signature voice—audacious in its honesty, virtuosic in its artistry, outsider in its attitude—has become one of the most original in contemporary poetry. Her latest collection takes its title, Modern Poetry, from the first textbook Seuss encountered as a child and the first poetry course she took in college, as an enrapt but ill-equipped student, one who felt poetry was beyond her reach. Many of the poems make use of the forms and terms of musical and poetic craft—ballad, fugue, aria, refrain, coda—and contend with the works of writers overrepresented in textbooks and anthologies and those too often underrepresented. Seuss provides a moving account of her picaresque years and their uncertainties, and in the process, she enters the realm between Modernism and Romanticism, between romance and objectivity, with Keats as ghost, lover, and interlocutor.
In poems of rangy curiosity, sharp humor, and illuminating self-scrutiny, Modern Poetry investigates our time’s deep isolation and divisiveness and asks: What can poetry be now? Do poems still have the capacity to mean? “It seems wrong / to curl now within the confines / of a poem,” Seuss writes. “You can’t hide / from what you made / inside what you made.” What she finds there, finally, is a surprising but unmistakable love.
“Diane Seuss’s superb Modern Poetry is no mere survey; it’s a full-frontal seminar on the subject. In these forty-one fiery poems, Seuss takes a deep dive into our inheritance from the Romantic and Modernist lyric poets, like Keats and Hopkins, through Stevens and Plath, ‘the final modern poet.’ Her sizzling (and often funny) task is to insist on the radical differences she savors from those earlier custodians of the melancholy sublime, where Beauty was writ large and meaning can still seem like an academic exercise—or mere fog. The truth in Seuss’s world is gritty, with dirt on its hands, determined by a self-assertive resistance to the Romantic ideal. For every ‘Aria,’ ‘High Romance,’ and ‘Villanelle,’ she counters with a ‘Cowpunk’ and ‘Little Fugue with Jean Seberg and Tupperware.’ She shows us that class, region, race, gender—those identifying features—are not things to be solved or resolved in some transcendental razzmatazz but accepted, embraced. Seuss exposes the falsity of idealized love, of academic coziness, and the grandeur of sublimity by a self-deprecating humor that morphs time and again into a wily, powerful, self-valuing gift.” —David Baker
Diane Seuss is the author of five books of poetry, including frank: sonnets, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Voelcker Prize, and a finalist for the 2022 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Four-Legged Girl, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, winner of the Juniper Prize. She was a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2021 she received the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Michigan.
This event has been made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation