Thunderbird, Dorothea Lasky (Wave Books, 2012), Reviewed by Chris Beard
If you’ve ever heard Dorothea Lasky read before, you know her voice when you hear it—and when reading Thunderbird, you can’t help but recognize her singular voice as the driving force of her poetry. The voice is confident, comfortable, and knowing, so when she says things like “I saw Fall go quietly into Winter / It is not like death” (“The changing of the seasons is life and death seen gently,” 5-6), you believe her, and you see a side of experience that is at once a part of understanding. Her voice is shaped by her short, rarely punctuated lines and simple diction, and delightfully, the direct vernacular does not dull the subject matter of the poems: “What bitter eye knew I had a voice / To say what men have done to me… To make me speak for the wretched / To speak wretchedly about the ugly” (“I had a man,” 28-32). With questions like these, the poems in Thunderbird avoid reductive conclusions, and explore their ideas with both honesty and genius. Throughout the book, Lasky’s poems are brave enough to be self-aware and inquisitive without being pretentious about it—and the poetry world could use more of her brand of sincerity.
But readers should be warned about one thing: Thunderbird is overwhelmed with monsters. Men, Zombies, Demons, Enemies, Devils, Dragons, Weird Ass Hippies—Lasky’s favorite trope in this book seems to be these often comic book-esque foils, who are just as much a part of the self as they are other. Sometimes these threats even seem to overwhelm the text, such as in the poem “The Enemy,” when she reiterates the title in nearly every line: “The Enemy makes an enemy / of another person / Because the Enemy is within her” (1-3). Or: “You must realize that you are the Enemy / I want everyone to like me / It is because I am the Enemy / The Enemy only wants to self-destruct / In order to kill the Enemy” (14 -18). The confident yet paradoxical statements blur the identity and meaning of the title until the reader is forced to reconsider what constitutes an enemy. But ultimately, the only real threat is that Thunderbird is smart enough to know that if we are to really learn more about ourselves, the path to knowledge might be filled with the monsters we don’t yet know ourselves to be: “I care for monsters / But only because I am one” (“Who to tell,” 3-4).