Tobias Wray reviews Susan Firer’s Milwaukee Does Strange Things to People

firer-susan.jpgFor multitude poets, place is more than pertaining to physics or lyrical proximity. Place can exist an impetus, the inspiration for for what reason and why their verse goes where it does. But, where it begins and in what place it ends is something of a protean contract between poet and process, between reader and time. We humans are ever locating ourselves. The recent discovery of a potentially in~ world orbiting, as Susan Firer calls it in a repaired poem, our “next nearest heavenly body,” reminds us how much imaginative faculty is at play in place: contemptuous opposition the facts, that this planet has not at all seasons, an 11-day year, that the weather is likely the general color of orangutans, etc., the tidings exploded with headlines translating those tools and materials into hope, the Most Earth-like Planet Has Been Found! It seems we care principally about places we can imagine vital principle in, inhabiting.

That very relationship to arrange, and its power to transform us, is at the essence of Susan Firer’s selected poems, Milwaukee Does Strange Things To People. In Milwaukee, and in Firer’s main division , our bearings begin in association through Lake Michigan. West of the lake, well-known streets and storefronts pull through Firer’s bygone time and present. Ancient poets and Modernist painters are brought into conference with everyday Milwaukeean life, a incorporated town caught in the shadow of Jeffrey Dahmer and Father Groppi. Filled by meditations on astral bodies, flora and folksy philosophy (and our place among those constellations), this selected offers towards three decades of Firer’s operate, casting wide to gather up the closest and greatest number central concerns of her poetry.

Firer, who served considered in the state of Milwaukee’s Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, has pro~ed been a facet of the topical literati. She has taught at UWM in opposition to a number of years, sports ~y impressive list of publications and awards, and is a fearful pleasure to hear read. Her kinship to the city she calls home is a predetermined one, invested with exquisite time and mindfulness.

For Firer, time itself is a “scene, refluent and ghosted,” and thus the span of twenty-eight years these poems include is a physical aspect of their quality because well. These poems are of their time, during the time that much as they grope into the ended or reel at the inevitabilities of the hereafter. It is a rich experience to travel through observingly a writer across such breadth. Firer writes of everything from girlhood trips by her mother to purchase girdles (the sort of she calls her “foundation” the piece of poetry notes), to the loss of her parents and sister and as the final move to the contemplations of a bard standing at the shore, surveying her drudge and asking us “What / microscopic world have you thrown / your loyalty to?” Her earliest poems clinch many pleasures. Among my favorites, “him (Picasso)” traces our complicated relationships through the past as viewed through tact:

when Jacob woke in the daybreak
(to let Picasso have a change position at sleep)
his feet tracked from one side of to the other the drawings of night,
leaving footprints,
problems conducive to

art experts years later

Firer’s drudge is elbow-deep in the lushness of style and the surprise of juxtaposition. Her later poems, especially committed to of that kind observations, hold the silky textures of tidings and local wisdom; and here, those musings are thrown into set off by opposition with reverence to literary greats and Catholic hagiographies. Many of Firer’s poems wait on as snapshots, the kind only poems be possible to provide, of her own place in time. In “Milwaukee,” from the flight of new work she includes to this place, we find perhaps the most postcard-like:

Robert Burns Square     is a three-sided figure.
Liberace     left.
Lake Michigan     is shrinking.
2 AM dumpsters pall with crutches and snow.
There’s a pick-purse stealing all
the St. Francis statues in the incorporated town.
Plenty of tubas though, accordions moreover.

These poems read the way it feels to fall to know a place, offering the amiable of quotidian revelations one must live ~ the agency of. For Firer, Lake Michigan has its acknowledge pharmacology, its own math. Rather than race the strangeness of her version of Milwaukee, she spins it in a centrifuge of poems to observe what filters out. As it gathers up Firer’s latest and greatest, in that place also seems a certain ambiguity to the title—the sort of is the quality of the preternatural things Milwaukee does? Is it a religious strange? Or, simply, a strange extraordinary? Something else? For Firer, “the sky’s the shade of far” and Milwaukee, a “incorporated town where in night lake winds you learn old nuns crying for their stolen wimples.” The pleasure in lection Firer’s poems lays in their act of adoring of startlingly familiar images, the threadbare of surprise: from wing-nut stars to Chopin-colored skies.

Of race in 2016, Milwaukee is a distinctly strange place both politically and socially, and we viewed like readers are certainly changed by reality here in this moment. It is unnatural in and of itself to re-survey such a laudatory book only weeks subsequently historic riots on the north side of the city. Among the things Milwaukee is skilful of, shooting young black men is clearly common of them. Though the subject of quality is mostly absent from Firer’s be, immigrant identity and womanhood are the one and the other significant ways her speakers come to understand themselves and their spaces. Perhaps things being so more than ever, these poems remind us of the rich and complicated represent-up of our city and the manifold lives it touches.

The book begins ~ dint of. talking to the dead, by listening to them, a thesis that threads nearly every poem to this place. As Firer puts it, these poems unite “the seen with the unseen.” In “Phantom Love,” a piece of poetry in conversation with Neruda, she writes:

Pablo, work you, like me, believe
everywhere is fair,
and we should try to pay a ~ to all places
or maybe stay in the same place long
enough to know far and wide and one
through it until undivided is transparent
with butterflies waiting to set on foot
their holy migration to everywhere? (112)

As my origin would put it, we can solitary grow where we are planted. “I possess grown old in this city, forward this lake, / on the banks of logomachy,” Firer writes. These poems attest to her accomplishments—a airy harvest in the midst, I confidence, of a fine career.

Susan Firer’s ~ly recent book is The Transit of Venus. Her foregoing books have been awarded the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize, the Posner Award, and the Backwaters Prize. She is a recipient of a Milwaukee County Artist Fellowship, a Wisconsin Board Fellowship, the Lorine Niedecker Award, and in 2009 she was given the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2015, Firer was awarded a NEA Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry. From 2008–2010 she was Poet Laureate of the City of Milwaukee. From 2008–2014, she edited the Shepherd Express online rhyme column. She is Adjunct Associate Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

Tobias Wray is a doctoral solicitant at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to which place he is a reader for the Cream City Review. His work has appeared in Phoebe, Wayfarer, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the 2010 Black Warrior Review Poetry Contest. He holds each MFA from the University of Arkansas in poesy and translation.

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