English Professor Diane Seuss read poems from her new book in the Olmsted Room on the evening of Oct. 19. Her poetry collection, Four-Legged Girl was released Oct. 6 and is Seuss’s third book following It Blows You Hollow and Wolf Lakes, White Gown Blown Open.
Amelia Katanski and Deia Sportel, along with Bruce Mills who introduced Seuss, organized the reading.
Seuss read eight poems beginning with “An occasion is a rare occasion.” In addition she read the title poem – “Oh, four-legged girl, it’s either you or the ossuary,” and finished with the poem “Beauty is over.”
According to Seuss, there is a trajectory from the first book to the third, and to the fourth coming out in 2018, and they are told from the perspective of a rural speaker in a big city imagining a new self.
“Four-Legged Girl has a clearer focus than the two previous books,” Seuss said. “The poems of this book unfolded during some difficult years of coping with a loved one’s addiction. This took me back to an earlier time in my life in which I lived in New York City and fell in love with a heroin addict who ultimately overdosed and died. I’d say the present reality and the memory of that time of intense love and loss frame this collection.”
The title of the book originated from a real four-legged girl, Myrtle Corbin. She was born with four legs, two pelvises, two vaginas and two sets of uteruses as a result of an absorbed twin in the 19th century. She had two kids from one side and three from the other.
“The photograph was what originally compelled me,” Seuss said. “I couldn’t look away. I imagined coming upon her in a rural landscape, following her, and watching her disrobe. Her absolute strangeness, her power, who she was beneath her clothes, became an image for me of poetry, what poetry is to me. She—poetry—is something I can’t live without.”
Many friends, family, and colleagues attended Seuss’s reading, including fellow English professor Andy Mozina. Though Mozina and Seuss haven’t collaborated on work in years, he enjoys reading Seuss’s work and attending her readings.
“She has an eye that lights up the textures of life and gives all information with wit, sadness and perspective about the way life is,” Mozina said. “It’s powerful.”
According to Seuss, she was not nervous at the reading because she felt like everything had come full circle — she had been a student at Kalamazoo College and she felt safe because she was reading to her community. Her mentor of 43 years, Conrad Hilberry, attended the reading, and originally “urged her to fly crookeder.”
“I really want to make poems that hold up over time, that show care, that attest to what I witnessed and how I felt and who I loved in this life of mine,” Seuss said. “I hope my books give my people, all of them, a kind of afterlife, as least until the world blows up. I want my poems to communicate to the reader or listener that I keep it real, that I tell the truth insofar as I understand it, and that keeping it real and telling the truth is a massive relief. I recommend it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed October 17th as the date of Seuss’s poetry reading. It was the 19th.