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Louise in Love

Louise in Love

by Mary Jo Bang

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In this stunning new collection of poems, Mary Jo Bang jettisons the reader into the dreamlike world of Louise, a woman in love. With language delicate, smooth, and wryly funny, Louise is on a voyage without destination, traveling with a cast of enigmatic others, including her lover, Ham. Louise is as musical as she is mysterious and the reader is invited to listen.


In this stunning new collection of poems, Mary Jo Bang jettisons the reader into the dreamlike world of Louise, a woman in love. With language delicate, smooth, and wryly funny, Louise is on a voyage without destination, traveling with a cast of enigmatic others, including her lover, Ham. Louise is as musical as she is mysterious and the reader is invited to listen. In her world, anything goes, provided it is breathtaking. Bang, whose first collection was the prize-winning Apology for Want, both parodies and pays homage to the lyric tradition, borrowing its lush music and dramatic structure to give new voice to the old concerns of the late Romantic poets. Louise in Love is a dramatic postmodern verse-novel with an eloquent free-floating narration. The poems, rife with literary allusion, take journeys to distant lands. And, like anyone on a voyage without a destination, they are endlessly questioning of the enigmatic world around them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is not a book about silent screen star Louise Brooks, despite her photo on the book's cover, seeming references to the notoriously alcoholic Brooks's many lost weekends, and persistent echoes of the 1920s throughout. Bang's (Apology for Want) "dramatis personae" in these serial poems include, among many others, Louise; her sister, Louise; her lover, Ham; and Ham's brother, Charles. Nothing much happens, but sensibilities are conveyed with accurate emotions and a liberally deployed knowledge of the arts. Like many of the louche denizens of Brooks's era, Bang's characters can overdo the alliteration and borrowing of musicality of foreign languages, whether French or Italian: "Louise dreamed a clowder of cats was eating yesterday's dinner.../ December, a drear pentimento--unveiling the mouth...." The sardonic "Here's a Fine Word: Prettiplease" has some of the world-weary tone of Jean Rhys and Dorothy Parker, but the dominant influence here may be John Berryman's Henry, who harkened back in a similarly multi-vocal fashion. And Louise's problems in her love affair with Ham (along with their erotic doubles) point to a wry gay subtext la Djuna Barnes. While some readers will find the clowder of characters and their Edward Gorey-like diction cloying, others will delight in Bang's unsparing ("Diaphragmatic heaving. Base emetic act./ The puky little sun glowing to a glare. Puissance.") time-channeling. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Bang's second collection will try many patient readers with its surface of brilliant word play teased by a hint of narrative. The list of characters include Louise, a young woman in love; her sister, Lydia; her lover, Ham Gorden; his brother, Charles Gorden; and a child named Isabella, suggesting a graspable plot. But Louise's love voyage from innocence to experience is decidedly nonlinear. If you can approach this kind of writing with an open mind, you will be enchanted by some of the d cor, including the retro-style courtship of Louise and Ham, the literary allusions (those that you catch, of course), and the brilliant, sonorous juxtapositions: "The wrists tiny veinlets sunk/ while gravity's gooseherd gathered the minion capillaries." Bang can't stop inventing and accumulating these gems; from "a clowder of cats" to "a dart in the eye of Ifdom," brief moments congeal, though not with any clear destination in mind. There are only fragments of sex, ennui, Keats, and Virginia Woolf, in "a fantastic sea where nothing but nothing can save us." By the end, Bang runs the risk of losing her readers, but she seems to be having too good a time to care. For academic collections.--Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine LLP Law Lib., New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bang's new collection is a series of short- to medium-length lyrics disguised as a verse-novel about a woman named Louise, and a few shadowy figures besides. It is not altogether successful in being a novel, because it does not finally want to be one—although the disguise is important. Louise is, in some ways, an identifiable character: she is prone to fits of whimsy, she admires extravagance for its own sake, and she is a resolute onanist—although more discreet than Whitman. But her consistency of character is not paralleled by a process of growth or change; it is instead turned toward an improbable linguistic experiment, in which Bang rings as many variations as possible on the theme of stasis, which she suggestively terms,"The danger of languid and largo." That Bang succeeds at all in this experiment is testament to her genius for improvisation and her commitment to making things new. Occasionally, she lets her hand show too plainly and the result is drab, but there are many moments of reverie where Louise is given a preternatural, ecstatic sharpness of vision:"She stood on a rise overlooking a road / alongside a lake that flowed into another, / and another, and another like hours / babbling their latebreaky news." There is a loneliness in these lines stronger than the romance promised in the collection's title. One suspects, in the end, that love is both too serious and too silly for Louise,"a mind that knows nothing of boundaries," and calls itself"the erotic singsong of motion." It is the playfulness of these poems, the erotics of words among words, that makes them memorable and argues their importance. Don't be fooled by the frou-frou: thisgirlcan dance.

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Chapter One


The crimped beige of a book, turned-down corner.
The way an eclipse begins with the moon
denting the sun's liquid disk, taking a first bit
then more and more and. Leaving a regal rim, a dim
spared portion, a shiver. How cold she was
as the cloud covered the cuckoo-land,
birds batting the tree fringe. Fitful caprice.
Foolish, yes, they were, those birds, but clever too.
A nostrum of patterning rain had fallen
beforehand ceding the hibiscus buds bundled
and in disarray. In the news p. Nostradamic foretelling
of retinal damage written in novelese.
Wasn't the skeptic invented to nourish an interest in science?
Yes. The puma swallows the sun, only to spit it back out.
Diaphragmatic heaving. Base emetic act.
The puky little sun glowing to a glare. Puissance.
One's own right hand teaching one to look, to see, to leap
upon some notional premise.
Louise placed the next-to-night glasses on the table.
It is, she said, so over. But it wasn't.
Specters they would be
rooted eighty-two years in the same spot waiting
for another and then an offhand remark and one by one
(which is the way death takes us, he said)
they took their shadows
and went out of the garden and into the house.


Louise said. No subtle cadences capturing birdnote
nor the melancholic "My Love
Is in a Light Attire." She could speak well enough
but to sing was to vivisect theear's dear pleasure desired.
Ham suggested canasta
or a hike to a hillock. The other reminded
no night-over camping—Lydia was soundly allergic to that.
Charles Gordon proposed
a boat ride to a big, big lake and a stroll
in the Parc d'Avenir. They heard an April angelus tolling its sixes,
a sure sign that the winter demon was down.
It was now a matter of waiting
for the haughty naughty beguilement of warmth.
They were standing on the balcony when
Louise was tossed not a rose or two with flayed edges
but an entire bouquet of hibiscus (a horde of bishops
huddling at the heart of each). Below them, a boy sweeping—
sheep, sheep, sheep—looked up
and souffled Lydia a kiss. Oh, it would be a good day, wontn't it?
Life flung riverward and on and on
the baby boat floating, spinning in the hope current,
someone singing "Sometimes a bun, sometimes only a


Louise peered into the corner of the cabinet
of fossilized delights: mandragon manikin, a dried mermaid,

assorted dog barks of crass appetites.
It was six and dark early. Don't forget numbers, Ham said,

are only examples: one and two with their sterile marriage,
three with its tattooed face. That year the gifts were lustrous:

a bear with the head of a horse, small nipples, flowers
in its ears. Louise said, Who doesn't love

the sound of scissor snips and free-for-all terms of endearment?
The dog, they named Lucky

To Be Alive, and refused to let it be altered.


Gorgeous that pillar, that post—both spiraled
with lashes of laurel. And between the two, four
couples fashioned past fumble.

The party wanted the night
sand to swallow their prints so they drove to the beach.
Back home, the filament blinked in the lamp

by which Louise sat reading a book about sleep.
Six knobs controlled the night but the day,
the day, she read, was rudderless,

an eggbreak knowing no bounds but becoming
an edgeless eye fluttering open at the sound of a siren,
a peony shaken—each petal a shower of instant truths.

Wake up. One wanted to hear
the sky—a river turned sidewise.
The wrist's tiny veinlets sunk

while gravity's gooseherd gathered the minion
capillaries. Wake up, wake up. The filament flickered again,
a forecast for certain. Sunrise would be

riddled with sound. At irregular intervals, rain.
The same letters one day would read
Charlotte; Charcot, the next; and then

charcuterie. Coincidence.
A grid over every window erased by the lack
of light.

In the everworld of art, even the lettuces' red leaves
stayed suspended between dissolves. Eye and idea, a rope
at the waist. She was held—

not by the text, but by the pretty pictures.


Did she drink tea? Yes, please. And after,
the halo of a glass gone.
A taxi appeared out of elsewhere.

Five constellations, Louise said,
but only two bright stars among them. Soon, Ham said,
the whale will reach the knot of the fisherman's net;

the moon will have its face in the water.
And we'll all feel the fury of having been used
up in maelstrom and splendor.

Mother did say, Louise said, try to be popular,
pretty, and charming. Try to make others
feel clever. Without fear, what are we?

the other asked. The will, said Louise. The mill moth
and the lavish wick, breathless in the remnant
of a fire.


To the other who'd been left behind.
The city was unlucky in cloudy and chance of.
Routing the enemy, following a route.

What does it mean, Mary Louise,
that the mall in Midcreek will open in May?
They were getting away

to nature, conveyance as a form of diffidence.
Every avenue, said Ham, still ends at perception.
There is a point, said Louise, when one will act or won't

even know what she's missed.
She was wearing a wig and suit of blue serge
and looked somewhat like that section

of a symphony written in the alphabet soup
of C and B-neath. The road was a ribbon
on the bright canyon bed. Clever twin, said Louise,

to those who know how to follow
a scheme that avoids the end of the senses
before there can be a begun. She saw: a blue car leaving

at three; a blue car returning at four; an odd-looking man
leaning against an ornamental Japanese pine.
They stopped at the house on the top of the hill,

lit like a candle-house cake. I hope, Ham said,
there's a fire station deep in this forest.
Forest? What forest? she said.

Don't you see—
it's a fantastic sea where nothing but nothing can save us.


Four diphtheria deaths, then fire, now five named lakes
with tranquil looks. Yet rampantly mad.
A lunatic shriek from a ruffian

child. One oar wrestled a mob of shore fringe, another,
the wet underbirth. And madness,
was it afflicted by demons? Or stricken of God? Or vision,

thrown on an empty mirror, and there you were?
Later, upstairs—the lakes packed away
in pearly cases, the coppery spin of a high skyward

arrayed against a leaded window—the chiasmic
question recurred. She recalled shy little lessons
from a girl named Renee on the unattainable freedoms

of the flesh. In the dining room, they would crumple
over the table like paper angels
if anyone raised an eyebrow.

Otherwise, they leaned against scenery—looking down
at their Bonniedale shoes
as if they were in love with nothing else.

Macular Degeneration

By Robert D'Amato, M.D., Ph.D., and Joan Snyder


Copyright © 2000 Robert D'Amato and Joan Snyder. All rights reserved.

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