Kalamazoo has a well-deserved reputation for being rich in the literary arts. And Diane Seuss is one of the best-known and most loved poetic voices in town. When Seuss gives a reading, the room is usually packed, and the audience often sighs, emits "oohs" and "ahhs," and claps for more. She has also taught many workshops and seminars in local literary circles.
The writer-in-residence at Kalamazoo College launches her third poetry collection in October. It's called Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press). Seuss readily credits her friend and mentor, poet and Kalamazoo College professor emeritus Conrad Hilberry, for her success.
“There’s no me without Con,” says Seuss. “When I was 15, I went to a rural high school in Niles. So not even the main high school in town but in Brandywine, out in the cow pasture. Con was a poet in the schools then and he was signed up to go to Niles High School. He’d read a poem of mine that I was naïve enough to send to a contest for which he was the judge. He gave it an honorable mention but he didn’t forget it. He came on his own volition to my high school to find me.”
Having found her, Hilberry told Seuss how much he had enjoyed her poem and asked for more. He also invited her to give a reading with him at the school. The rest, as they say, is history. Seuss was encouraged to pursue a career in writing and to come to Kalamazoo College where, after earning degrees there and at Western Michigan University, she's taught since 1988.
Seuss didn't always write poetry, though. She recalls time in New York writing romance novels and what she politely refers to as “that other genre” for a quick buck when she was young and finding her way.
But it is poetry that's brought Seuss critical and popular acclaim. She's the author of two previous poetry collections: It Blows You Hollow, and Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, a winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2014, the Georgia Review, New Orleans Review, Poetry, The New Yorker, and elsewhere.
A theme that reappears in her work is the power of femininity.
“And it’s not pink,” Seuss says. When thinking about what feminine power means to her, she says, “The first thing that comes to my mind is my mom. She’s such an interesting, iconoclastic, powerful woman. She reinvented herself after my father died when she was 32. She then went to college and got her degree in English. She brought Virginia Wolfe and James Joyce into the house. She’s powerful but not ‘femmy’ at all. Never did the makeup, never did the hairdo, wears pants. She's very comfortable in her body and in her life.”
In her new collection, Four-Legged Girl, Seuss says she's written about “love, desire, desirelessness, gender, and what’s after desire.” The title comes from a photograph she was given of a real girl in Texas born with four legs who spent her life working in a circus.
Seuss is now wrapping up work on her next poetry collection, tentatively titled Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, after a painting by Rembrandt.
Seuss has readings scheduled at Bookbug in Kalamazoo on Friday, October 23, at 7 p.m.; at the Portage District Library with Bonnie Jo Campbell on Wednesday, November 4, at 7 p.m.; and at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center with Hedy Habra on Saturday, November 14, at 7 p.m.
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