Book Review: Willy Loman's Reckless Daughter by Elizabeth Powell
Elizabeth A. I. Powell is the author of “The Republic of Self” a New Issue First Book Prize winner, selected by C.K. Williams. Her second book Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances won the Robert Dana Prize in poetry, chosen by Maureen Seaton, and will be published by Anhinga Press in 2016. In 2013, she won a Pushcart Prize. Powell has also received a Vermont Council on the Arts grants and a Yaddo fellowship. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Ecotone, Harvard Review, Handsome, Hobart, Indiana Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Slope, Sugarhouse Review, Ploughshares, Post Road, and elsewhere. She is Editor of Green Mountains Review, and Associate Professor of Writing and Literature at Johnson State College. She also serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing and Publishing. Born in New York City, she has lived in Vermont since 1989.
A Review of Elizabeth Powell's Willy Loman's Reckless Daughter by Steven Seum
From the onset, Elizabeth A.I. Powell’s Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: or Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances questions the reality of the words on the page and the understanding of the world in which we exist. While each poem enhances the narrative of the next, Powell creates a work of literature than can be picked up at your leisure or read in an entire sitting. At times there is both freedom and structure to the words on the page, while at other times the poems are crafted with narrative reminiscent of a short story. Powell uses Death of a Salesman as a model for framing her poetry in life, death, and actuality. Her statement of the unspoken parallel of the absent versus the known is representative in her questions of truth and the implications of the obscure. Carrying across the idea of a dual existence, there is always the question of who? She writes:
So, I say it. My double, my sister: we are engaging in an energy
event. I am disassociating into you. God is an actor acting on us: You
are inventing me and I am inventing you. Where have you been? I say.
Where have you been? You say.
The stories make the reader marvel whether she or the other may be the motivation for the manifestation and creation of literature, drama, and life. Always questioning, Powell tackles death’s totality and truth of the effects of a non-existence as she writes, “The object of our attention is this dream that turns out to be real./ The object of our attention is at once the object of our attention and also ourselves.” Her prose continually treats the external and the internal, challenging us to ignore the truth of their present duality. She continues later writing, “[s]ometimes you try to deny my existence, but today please come/flying so we may live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” She never allows us to forget the designs and intentions of the interwoven thematic issues of the absent and the known when she asks the other to come flying with her into imaginary circumstances.
There is a culmination of imaginary circumstance as Powell ends her book with its namesake, “Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter,” as structure and rhyme are birthed from the chaos and questioning that have lead up to this final act. She tackles this idea from the viewpoint of a child of passion, this unknown bastard, she writes, “O, Willy Loman, I’m your reckless daughter, your memento mori./ I’ll never be a character in your authorized story,/the one that brought you fame.” The continued treatment of truth versus authenticity is maintained as we see this unfamiliar personality treat Willy Loman as a construction of veracity. He is the known and the glorified while she is the unknown and the repressed. This idea of questioning true existence begins with the first poem of the book and culminates into the stunning final magnum opus. As the book ends, there is no doubt we are sold on the idea of this creation, this unwritten circumstance of Willy Loman’s implied indiscretions of infidelity. It is the birth of the unreal, a question of authenticity, and a depth of meaning to a story we may have not known. The reader is left mourning for the loss of someone whose entire existence is a question of authenticity and repression. Powell’s poems whisper quietly in our ears, challenging us to deny this unwritten reality.