Seuss visited the campus of Central Michigan University as part of the Meijer Writing Series.
Diane Seuss is a Michigan based poet whose work has received national acclaim, including a pulitzer prize nomination for her 2015 book Four-Legged Girl.
CMU’s Ben Thorp sat down with Diane to talk about her book and her poetry.
Ben: I’m so glad I was at the reading because someone asked you the question about this cover. Can we talk about that?
Diane: Oh yes. So the cover of this book is an actual photograph of a girl born in the 1800’s, I think in Kentucky, Myrtle Corbin, who was born with four legs. Actually what they called it back then was a monster down below.
I ended up writing this poem about her that was not what I expected it being. About the speaker encountering her in a rural landscape and kind of seeing that she was nothing like the speaker imagined. She’s not demure she’s ferocious. She’s also regal. She became the guiding spirit of the book. What I realized as I was writing it was she, this desire for whatever she represents, was really a desire in me for poetry. That living out and voicing your own absolute uniqueness. And having the guts to live it out.
Ben: There is so much, especially in the first two sections, about the language of desire and beauty, and desiring to be beautiful. We go from, it starts with Spirea Covered in Those Clotted Blossoms , where you have the girl saying I wish I could be loved in this way I wish could be beautiful in this way to at the end we have this poem called Beauty is Over. Talk about that transition and that move from wanting to be this thing to realizing that it’s all it’s cracked up to be.
Diane: The book became an examination and ultimately a dismantling of the notion of beauty, even what that means, why it’s valued, and what it is for. The poem Beauty is Over is probably the most empowering poem that I’ve ever written because not only does it say ‘it’s over and I’m done with it’ and some of it comes from not being a girl anymore but being a full fledged woman. Post menopausal woman. Where you become invisible in certain ways and you realize that’s a relief. It’s a really honest poem about my body. To be honest about one’s body, about who one is, is the pathway to absolute freedom. At the end rather than good poetry being the standard, the last line of that poem is “my bad leg, and my bad hair, and my bad bad bad bad poetry.” But that is not a low self esteem line that is a line of rescinding judgements in which bad or ugly becomes empowered.
Ben: I wondered if that was finding strength in people who aren’t beautiful in the traditional sense.
Diane: For instance I have a c section so I have a big scar. You can either sort of, if you think about how much TV so many commercials are about what you need to cover up in order to be beautiful and to instead own that scar as part of my power, you know that scar represents a story of surviving a really hard birth and giving birth to a human being. To consider that part of my beauty rather than something I need to hide from the world and to boast about it in a poem is a very different aesthetic than american society, american beauty standards ask of us.
Ben: Can I ask you to read a couple of poems?
Diane: Sure. This is called ‘Oh, I’m a stone.” There was no relief from being a human and so I turned to stone. Now there is no relief to being a stone. THere is no relief in being a stone, who would choose to be a stone? The stone you pick up on the path to grandma’s house didn’t choose to be a stone, believe me I should know. I’m a stone.