There are pleasures in almost every poem in Susan Cohen's excellent A Different Wakeful Animal, pleasures that arise out of an alertness to the natural world, and the original phrasing she seeks and regularly finds. Her descriptions constitute what I want to call intelligence --- someone in the act of getting the world right, making it ours as well as hers. In her "Ode to the Brown Pelican," she writes, "...today I catch you/on your own swimming the air/ with the equanimity of a leaf,/ immune to high ambition,/ but alert to small,/ quick opportunities." Such opportunities, taken advantage of, are Cohen's achievement, which is considerable, and, dare I say, give "high ambition" a good name.
-- Stephen Dunn
A clear, distinctive voice and developed imagination leads us through Susan Cohen’s A Different Wakeful Animal where she works her way into loss with the movement and song of the many creatures she evokes. There are birds innumerable and arrayed, dragonflies, and frogs, but the speaker, too, is animaled, as are we all. We are reminded of this truth by death and desire, which is to say hunger, and this very human speaker who cannot give in or doesn’t totally trust this animal-side. This tightly-knit collection of poems asks us to interrogate our humanity; looking to find what has become taloned, what has become plumed.
A sense of just proportion distinguishes the best writers, and Susan Cohen, a poet with a world view and a firm and unassuming vision for our place within it, demonstrates that sense. No matter where her vision alights, she illuminates a scene; whether it be the irreparable damage of a firestorm that consumes her family’s world, or the eeriness of a southern California night that skulks her north, she shadows her curiosity to the place where the unknown opens, if not to clarity, to fruition. Refusing to lead her reader into the dark basement of poetry to aimlessly wander by association, she composes with such precision that the deepest mysteries of contemporary life become companionable, and the companionship becomes that of a wise and trusted friend.
A Different Wakeful Animal
A DIFFERENT WAKEFUL ANIMAL IS HERE!
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"My body, …
it is not the earth I will miss,
it is you I will miss." – Louise Glück
I say good riddance to my body,
its conspiracy of veins
and bowels and vertebrae.
I can trust a deer to pick its way
through trees, a daffodil
to bully its way through frost. Once,
I saw the silhouette of a baby seal
held inside the translucence of a wave
like a portrait in a locket. How quartz
threads through rock, and a heron
threads through air then lands
and stills to a piece of quartz.
The way even weeds flower. Just now
the dullest brown bird appeared,
clumsy at our feeder, and picked
at soggy seed. I watched the quiver
of its tail while it fed its hunger.
Need I say bodies must be fed?
I say the earth is the body I will miss.
Even if I could only touch it dis-
embodied, send a shiver
down the outstretched limb
of a single eucalyptus.
Even if I could touch down only
in the linear brittle body
of a dragonfly, one evening,
some rank bog, skim
the skin and flit.
--originally in Valparaiso Poetry Review (as "Valentine")
News about poems from my second collection A Different Wakeful Animal:
Two poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, "The Golden Hills of California" which appeared in Redactions, and "Credo," by the California Quarterly.
"Minor Collisions" won an Atlanta Review International Publication Prize, as did "Ode to the Brown Pelican" and "Viewing Guernica in Madrid," which also was published in the Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry. "Starlings" appeared in Hunger Mountain, "Night's Mouth" in the Los Angeles Review and "Full Lunar Eclipse" in Tule Review. "Death in the Face" was published in Mudfish 18, as a finalist for their national award. "Birding by Ear" and "Freefall" won the 2012 Literal Latte Poetry Prize and appear online in the Winter 2013 issue.
An earlier version of "Quiver," can be read in the Fall/Winter 2012-3 Valparaiso Poetry Review under the title "Valentine." "Strata" (with audio) appeared in the winter 2012 issue of Able Muse as a finalist for the Able Muse Write Prize. Southern Humanities Review published "Every Minute Drove It Wilder," which also appears in the Bloomsbury Review of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry.
"Their Voices" can be found at Anderbo where Debora Greger chose it for the 2011 Anderbo Poetry Prize. "Reportorial" won the 2013 Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Award from Harpur Palate. Greensboro Review published "Why Whales Are Poems," Sou'wester "The Milkmaid," and Salamander "In Her Eyes." "To Her Fingerprints" and "To the Brooches My Mother Wore" can be found online at Connotations Press. "We Descend" and "San Rossio Square" appear in the anthology Extinguished and Extinct (Twelve Winters Press). "If You're Reading This You May Be a Baboon" was printed in a pamphlet of Beyond Baroque contest winners and online at Canary.
Other publications include "Reading Fernando Pessoa in Portugal," and "We Bones Who Are Here," online at Blue Lyra; "To My Breath" and "Magician" in Poet Lore; "Vision" in Tar River Poetry; and "Tips on How To Become a Fossil" and "To My Shadow" in Sow's Ear Poetry Review. "Fog Week," can be read online at West Trestle Review where editors also selected it for their annual letterpress chapbook, Catenary. "After the Boston Marathon Bombing" is online at Rattle as part of their Poets Respond feature. "Describe a Holy Building" and "Tensed in Black and White" are included in the debut volume of Aeolian Harp Anthology from Glass Lyre Press.