Diorama by Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein and Lisa Marie Basile
Wisp Press, 2011,Reviewed by Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom
Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein and Lisa Marie Basile's collaborative chapbook Diorama presents two parallel threads of a lyrical progression — at times starkly haunting, at times lushly sensual — through scenes of intimacy and eroticism, loss and death, set against a backdrop shifting in locus between the deserts of the American Southwest and the valleys and rainforests of Central and South America, with occasional detours to the Old World of the Mediterranean.
Morhardt-Goldstein's poems are informed by her background in classical music, including one presented as the first movement of a requiem mass, with parts in English and Latin.
Her poems move gracefully between dictions, painting moods with landscape and imagery.
One poem, "Piece for solo quena," begins:
We wear mustard-dust.
We sprouted saguaro antlers.
It sounded like the crackling of clay skeletons
running on the back of the sun.
The wind shot through holes in our bodies:
a violet diction of harmony.
The closing lines of her final poem exemplify an open-endedness that marks all of her work here: "the rolling of his cigarette/ the way a potter throws a teacup."
At first reading we see an image of effortless craftsmanship, and yet, two lines before, we had the image of "the foot that knocks over the fan at night," implying a drowsy carelessness; and reading the lines again through that lens, we can see a finished, painted, even well-loved teacup being carelessly shattered. It can be read either way, like much of the best work here.
Lisa Marie Basile writes with both startling immediacy and a taut reserve. Her image-rich poems retain an undercurrent of mystery beneath a disarming veneer of candor.
Her section brims with dazzling, at times devastating lines.
In "Letters," she writes:
When my mother spoke at the podium I felt
a wide angel fly from her head, crack against the rafters
and fall to the floor.
She covered the place in wing.
I imagined myself bending over her, preparing her like a
butterfly jaggedly descending toward a calm death.
Each poet carries her weight in this joint effort with technical skill and a voice refreshingly unabashed in its directness. This slim volume is a good introduction to two complementary yet distinctive new voices.