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Talismans by Maudelle Driskell


“Mature and provocative, this is a stunning first book,” says poet Cleopatra Mathis. TALISMANS brims with ceremonial relics and attendant epiphanies-from Jesus’s hand to Elvis’s wart, from a child’s marvel at an ice-covered jungle gym to a lover’s anguish in a formal tea garden. In the title poem, Driskell narrates a flea-market crowd’s delight at the Elvis memorabilia put up for sale. The circus atmosphere spurs the crowd on to imagine what might come of cloning The King’s wart. “Something simple happens,” writes the poet, “some brief spell of ball lightning rolling through our brains”… “sending us on crusades, giving us the idea for Velcro, / telling us to kill our wives… / and hope that, unlike steak, we move on to Glory…” There’s wry humor and wisdom in the poet’s detour into the contradictions that underlie everything human and sacred.


Maudelle Driskell calls these poems talismans, and talismans they are. Alternately sleek for the long flight or overflowing with the abundant images of a bleak but fecund world, the poems read as if every word has been considered, weighed, and found worthy. Such care to create such beauty. From chemotherapies to Elvis s wart impaled upon a stickpin, to Herman Melville s superfluous obituary, these fine poems all ring true. –Leon Stokesbury

That the imagination is not just a faculty but a force of nature is nowhere more apparent than in these fierce, protean, startling poems that stare, unblinking, into the deepest wounds, and, with rural certainty, know that the harrow waits for creatures who run toward the light. With vivid, indelible images, Driskell’s powerful intelligence and playful invention reveal and revile our naked vulnerability, and, against it, the desire to become “the pit of the fruit that breaks / teeth.” –Eleanor Wilner

At its heart, this is a book about the autonomy of the body its surprises and horrors, its desires and sexuality, its implacable urges toward nonbeing and the inability of the will to control it. My mind is all alone in the dark, says Driskell in these astringent, highly polished poems. Her eye is fixed as much on the specifically detailed, paradoxical world as on the approximate discoveries of selfhood. The body interferes and determines: a mysterious, evolving entity caught up in what the poet sees not only in herself but in animals and other humans around her.Quirky, often grimly funny, Driskell s clarity draws the reader to her insistence on the uncertain other. Mature and provocative, this is a stunning first book. –Cleopatra Mathis


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