Diamonds, Poems by Camille Guthrie ff. With Diamonds, Camille Guthrie lets her hair down. If Mrs. Maisel and T.S. Eliot had a love child, it would be Diamonds. I laughed my way through many of these poems but still took care to keep my iPad handy. After all, there was plenty to check up on: Picts, Sei Shōnagun, a host of erudite references as well as images of the abundant paintings and sculptures embedded in the poetry, providing us with glimpses of other times, and a new perspective on our own times. Real life is the subject. But here real life is comprehensive -- it includes the mortgage, the kids, the imagination (why shouldn’t she poet beat out Fanny for Keats – after all she could offer antibiotics), Madame Du Barry, all the paintings in the Clark Art Institute, unfinished novels, Syrian missing children, sex, and love.
One image I did not have to google is A Young Daughter of the Picts as this is on the cover of the book. The narrator of this poem is the young daughter herself, spelling out a to do list. One idea: “Strut around the shire like I’m all that in my new flower tattoos.” Another: “Build a bonfire to signal the Romans. I hear they have cute haircuts.’ Somehow I feel I taught this girl (multiple times) at Friends Seminary.
Camille used this interplay of visual art and poetic art (ekphrasis) in her previous work, In Captivity, which was inspired by the tapestries in the Cloisters. Because the dominant voice in this collection is so earthy and immediate, the allusions to paintings and to literature are absorbed into the persona’s consciousness. In the first poem, Hey Virgil, I thought at first that Virgil was a building super, but think again. It is that other Virgil as he is depicted by Dante, the guide to hell. I guess that makes it clear what her life feels like. But hyperbole, which Camille is very good at, is also the stuff of comedy.
In all the enchanting anachronisms and magical whimsy of these poems there is always a tie to this life now. In To Bring you the News, the poet says, “Yet the real prevails/ The sea level rises idealism falls/And ruthless ideologies abound/Put your head down/We have serious work to do.”
I think this is a work that readers will return to over and over. It mystifies and throws the reader off balance but in a way to make us more curious, more intent on mulling just a bit more. It takes on voices from the past and from works of art. Such delights as an apostrophe to H. D., a look at Seneca, a dating profile of Bosch (the painter, not the detective), and a monologue by Madame du Barry invite us to linger.
Single mothers who have raised kids on a shoestring while trying to keep alive a life of the mind and soul will love this book. (Oh yes, that was me. )