Lost Addresses: New & Selected Poems
Page Count: 110
Publication Date: Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Cover Artwork: Tree Woman – Photo collage by Alexander C. Kafka, incorporating an image in the Commons by Karl Struss.
About this Book
Through all of Lost Addresses, Diann Blakely’s immediate gift and penchant mark a harmony of lyrical ear and narrative mind in the precise intonation that became her signature. The reader who listens into her textures will hear the abundant felicity of her singular art. This book is proof against forgetting.
As if a Southern belle raised to perform femininity had been cursed with the world-weary sensibility of Charles Baudelaire: that is the chimeric voice of these glittering, decadent, elegiac poems. It is difficult to accept that such a voice has been stilled, but the new poems come to us as gifts from the “black-winged angel.”
I return to these poems for their facility with form, their directness and their digressions, their playfulness and wit, their care for imagery, imagination, and tone, but what I appreciate and admire most of all is how beautifully strange they often are. This is what I have come to recognize as Diann’s print, and what makes her poems uniquely and unforgettably hers.
Blakely’s storytelling is complex, no-nonsense, and often full of pain. Her voice is an in-your-face voice, an almost performance-poetry voice, yet her poems are full of craft and gorgeousness.
Diann Blakely (June 1, 1957 - August 5, 2014) was an American poet, essayist, editor, and critic. She taught at Belmont University, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, the Watkins Arts Institute, and served as the first poet-in-residence at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee. A Robert Frost Fellow at Bread Loaf, she was a Dakin Williams Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She won two Pushcart Prizes and has been anthologized in numerous volumes, including Best American Poetry 2003. Her first collection, Hurricane Walk, was listed among the year’s ten best by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; her second book, Farewell, My Lovelies, was named a Choice of the Academy of American Poets’ Book Society; and her third volume, Cities of Flesh and the Dead, won the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America as well as the 7th Annual Publication Prize from Elixir Press. She was poetry editor at Antioch Review and New World Writing. Her poetry collection Rain in Our Door: Duets with Robert Johnson is forthcoming from White Pine Press, and Each Fugitive Moment: Essays, Memoirs, and Elegies on Lynda Hull is forthcoming from MadHat Press.
“My fear is the common one, that her poetry should be lost,’’ Rodney Jones writes in the introduction to Lost Addresses: New and Selected Poems (100 pages; Salmon Poetry), a posthumously released collection by his friend and fellow Southerner, Diann Blakely.
“There are ample reasons for a poet to be neglected, temporarily submerged in a trend, or permanently effaced, for poetry is a cold media and the music that the claim of poetry rests on may not always be acknowledged,’’ he adds. “This book is proof against forgetting.”
Indeed. Blakely, who died in 2014, had a light that burned brightly, but the questionable benefits of self-promotion, let alone branding, were alien to her spirit. (In addition to this volume, her longstanding project, Rain In Our Door: Duets With Robert Johnson, is to be published by White Pine Press and another collection, Each Fugitive Moment; Essays, Memoirs and Elegies on Lynda Hull, is forthcoming from MadHat Press.)
Her verse unites respect for form and for precursors like Eliot and Plath with down-home tributes to high and low culture, from Sid Vicious to Foucault. She gives us imagined renderings of the real life meetings between Helen Keller and Mark Twain. In “The Story of Their Lives,’’ she writes:
It’s her characteristic elegiac mode—as accepting of grief for the death of Princess Diana as for that of a close friend. Recollecting an exchange with an insensitive lover, she writes:
Undaunted, Blakely continues:
As Jones notes: “She wrote more effectively in the high register than any Southern poet of her generation.’’ Close rhymes that sometimes put one in mind of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and attention to the soil she grew up in, half-loving and half-hating, were the seeds of this underappreciated lyricist.
In “History,’’ she addresses her legacy, head-on, but with characteristic irony.
Making sense of that history, whether it’s through summoning up of Charlotte Bronte’s gloves, Mary Jane Kelley, Jack the Ripper’s last victim, or the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, who may or may not have sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads, she hungers for what’s real, striking mercilessly at cant that’s in the way. “My friend, I hope your soul, unfettered, flies,’’ she writes in “Jailbird,’’ an elegy to a friend with “so many outstanding warrants/On your head that you’d be manacled/As soon as you stepped of the plane. O exile. /O vodka, Oxycontin, Ambien/And benzos too. I knew they’d cage you in.”
In the coda to what seems like might be the unremarkable subject of a college reunion, she lends a distinctive touch: “Farewell, my lovelies. ‘I’ll call, or write.’’ Let’s hope that Jones is right and that this collection, and the forthcoming piece on Johnson, gets this poet the attention her work so richly deserves.