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Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter or Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances

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From its introductory high-flying, free-wheeling, wildly-penned lyric essay to its final elegy in somber rhymed couplets; with its plays within poems and its prose within plays; with its kaleidoscopes and side-trips and its one woman producer-director who shines in her own theater of the imagination, Elizabeth Powell’s Willy Loman’s Restless Daughter defies genre categorizations in so many ways, it may be invited to dwell at the top of a mountain in a land so mysterious and so magical, with sun bouncing off its spires and mirrors and roller coasters, that we who are tethered below and lucky enough to enter its pages in wonder, can only call it brilliant. — Maureen Seaton, Judge, 2015 Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry

Elizabeth Powell’s theatrical book of poems plays out against the backdrop of Arthur Miller’s signature play, which is at once a guidepost and a foil for this drama of the self, this poeticmeditation on the intermixed American family.  Powell’s self-correcting poems are smart andhigh-spirited, vacillating wildly between feelings, between lyric and prose, moving in a shortspace from high comedy to dark grief.  I can’t think of another book of poems that is quite like Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter, which keeps bravely crossing “the line no one wants to write or live.” — Edward Hirsch, author of Gabriel: A Poem

Rarely in American poetry do we see the psyche turned loose with the kind of unrestrained wildness in Liz Powell’s new collection, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter. In a textual mixture of memoir, mythology, lyric poetry, and postmodern interrogations, Powell makes a flying leap into the theatrical realities of her family history and her own identity. The background of this ambitious poem is America.

Powell’s often brilliant dislocations and ventriloquisms have a mad velocity, abundant creative cunning, and aspire to a compassionate vision of all the characters in the theatrical chaos of one family’s life. Or as she says, with a characteristic panopticon-style logic, “The whole of America is a poem on how to read Death of a Salesman.” This is a wild, entertaining and ambitious poem. — Tony Hoagland, author of Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty

 

Put Liz Powell’s book on your must list. It’s smart, bountiful word-luscious poems explore the fractious connections between daughters and parents, and men and women, and actors and audience, with a daredevil’s brio and a philosopher’s introspection; and the ambitious long poem that revisits/extends/unpacks Death of a Salesman is surely one of the finer pieces to come from Powell’s generation of poets. It’s a book to not just read, but to live in for a while. — Albert Goldbarth, author ofSelfish

Sample Poems

 

SET DESIGN: WHAT THE DOOR KNOWS

The door is clairvoyant. It doesn’t need the fingerprints

to know. The door knows whom the unknown will shroud next,

its rust creaking hinge pontificating. No one understands

just how much this door knows. Its lintel provides a hint:

Weary is the man who knows his fate.

 

The door’s every rumbling atom fueling

each seismic prophecy. If you breach

this doorway, beware of treading on its sill;

carefully turn its burning handle clockwise.

This door made of nails and glue, smooth white paint,

 

a lock that always sticks. This door discerns the dates

of all who pass. It knows the manner and details

of your death. It screeches its witness. You will know it

by the lead paint chips flaking from its frame,

and it will grant your coming or going before you do.

 

TRAVELING SALESMAN IN PROVIDENCE

His character weighed on a balancing scale, suspended between null and void.

 

He couldn’t desert his wife despite her spite. His mistress, half his age,

 

required Viagric stamina. He didn’t want to strap her

 

to an old man, who’d soon grow bald and foolish. The facts swelled

 

his aorta, sped his blood toward its restless dying. The autumn air

 

smelled of allegory, a foreshadowing before curtains draw shut.

 

CNN blued his room with its bituminous glow. He grappled

 

the aging man’s cliché, wrestled at forty, a mood —

 

What was the world coming to? His High Mass of Selling

 

became a weary road. Dazed by the tube, the same old Chinese food,

 

he hungered to elect a new life, but the spicy stir-fry of what-might-be

 

gave him heartburn. His arches killing him, perspiration quenched the dread.

 

At first, he assumed — panic attack — uncertainty’s impending doom,

 

narrowing the stage and scene, his hotel room.

 

The Haitian cleaning lady helped him to the lobby from his bed

 

to await the ambulance; it wasn’t heartburn or in his head.

 

His inaccuracies left him dangling; his secrets, sweet and accidental,

 

cost him all he claimed. He no longer believed in the God of optimism.

 

A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man. He’d sell the same

 

wholesale wreck, the same story in Boston for now. He watched

 

the meltdown of his inner-core from the theater of his brain.

 

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