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“Sad Discoveries,” by India LaPlace, A Christmas Eve Review


IndiaLaPlaceSadDiscoveries
{Warning:This review contains explicit content and language. If you are offended by explicit language and content, feel free to not be. Or feel free to skip this review.  I’m good, either way.}

“And if I’d learned that,
My marriage might have survived,
Or, at least,
Maybe my dad wouldn’t tell me
That I’m the kind of girl
That’s difficult to love.”

And so ends the second poem in the chapbook by India LaPlace, Sad Discoveries. But this collection of narrative, deeply emotive pieces are anything but a “sad” discovery—you don’t find sadness when you find a woman whose poetic voice speaks to the strongest, bravest, weakest, most frightened and vulnerable places within yourself. You find yourself, which is the essence of poetry, or I’d posit, any artistic expression, no matter how banal or derivative.

I think of all the women who love the character from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly, or the people who are drawn to superhero movies, revenge movies, romance—they are all seeking the parts of themselves they want to be for that moment in time.

But India LaPlace is not someone we “want” to be, she is someone we already are, and she gives us permission to be, feel, forgive, judge, revisit, with the eyes of a woman, and even through the eyes of a girl through love-sick rosy lenses. In her short chapbook we get a glimpse into her world, and after reading her in HSTQ journal, I was eager to finally get to this work.

There’s a difference between seeking art to support our idealized selves and immersion in art that shows us the gestalt of who we are, who we were, and who we’ve yet to become. Yes, this is how it’s Christmassy: The ghosts of the past, present, future are not just “sad” discoveries—everything is a sad discovery, if you think on it. Even happy ones. Because to discover is to bring about change, and with change always comes loss.

It takes courage to find redemption for one’s self during moments you’ve felt ashamed of who you are or how you behaved—but it takes more courage to say, in a universal way, “Hey, I’m still here, fighting to climb up this hill of ball bearings, and what the fuck? No one told me it would be so hard. No one told me I’d be alone in this thing.”

A tough line to walk—not falling into self-pity, which, as an editor of a lot of poets, I have to steer many clear of the traps that smack of it, because self-pity is not something we want to see in a mirror vis-à-vis our art. This poet walks the line extremely well—careful not to beat herself up too much but taking ownership. Careful not to blame others but allowing them to play their part in the unfolding of her life.

The first poem, “They’ll Say It Was Post-Partum Depression” speaks to the universal ideal of motherhood and how we all fall oh, so short. Just when we think we’ve figured some stuff out, our kids learn to talk and tell us the slew of other ways we fucked up. That’s okay. We’re not alone. Moms need to stand together, y’all.

In her poem, “Depression,” the encounter with her father was eerily reminiscent of my own father and me, or even my mother. But back then “depression” wasn’t considered an illness. It was still in the “boot-strap” model of disorders. And yet I remember my parents telling me the same thing. Learn a skill, go to work, keep your head down, try harder, be steady, then if you’re lucky, you can quit when you meet a nice man who will take care of you while you raise a family together.

She speaks of the fork in the road we all seem to face as we look through our parents’ lenses: “the easy way” aka the path of least resistance, and “the hard way,” aka the unknown.

In this piece she doesn’t get to the part where she realizes that there is no path of least resistance, no matter who you are, where you are, when you’re an artist. Especially not the kind of artist she is, I was and am.

The kind where convention stares us in the face every time we make a move, and despite how right it is for us, it’s wrong for the collective “they” who always “say” and we end up fulfilling the worst prophecies about ourselves while ignoring all we overcome just to get out of bed, simply because the world teaches us that having children fixes everything for a woman.

In “That Little Voice,” she uses a lovely ambiguity at the end that’s nothing short of brilliant:

“And either way,/ I find myself left/ Lying on the carpet/ Of a Dark room/ I can’t seem to leave/ With half my heart whispering how strong I am/ And the other half drilling into my head/ That this is the only way I can ever be…”

She writes that she doesn’t “think that dark little voice is right…” but is that dark little voice the one telling her that she’s strong or she’s going to keep “finding herself” lying on the carpet of a dark room? And that lovely ambiguity speaks to the conflict colliding inside this poet’s mind.

That very human struggle between light and dark, always believing the light is where we want to live, but oddly, when we die, the light is what we follow to eternal darkness and the ultimate unknown. While seemingly something we’ve read before, pay attention to the words: she doesn’t tie it in a bow for us. She doesn’t tie it for herself.

When India LaPlace moves from sobbing in bed with her little girl comforting her to her sexual life, it’s seamless for me because women have always had crossed archetypal forms. The Virgin v. the Whore, and then we find gang-banging nuns. Brides of Christ getting fisted, and how is that different than the birth of a child? Holy, holy, holes filled, reborn, born, birth, blood, pain, ecstatic exaltation, then transcendence in the heavenly light of release, la petite mort, at one—and then all at once, that total isolation as we make the descent back to earth.

Yet although tongue-in-cheek, it feels like the poet still carries the little hand-held mirror with her, worrying about “feminism,” as if that’s an issue in the bedroom when all has said and have come. As if she doesn’t know she’s the one in that room—tied up or no—with all the power.

Only in places, some of the poems felt a little UN-guided—but not misguided, and yeah,  there’s a difference. It’s tough to do confessional poetry and have an arbiter of what is art v. what belongs in long form, in a journal to de-frag the emotions from the story from the events from the detail from the art from the universality of them all.

While line breaks and the truncated version looks like a poem, it isn’t a poem unless it gives us a new way to look at the mistakes of our youth with anything other than an “oops,” or a deep-felt regret. But she only does this a couple of times, like in in “Going Home,” which was more of a stream-of-consciousness diary entry rather than a poem-poem.

It went long, and I felt myself plucking out the stand-out lines that redeem it and frankly it could be edited, done again and shine. If I had overseen editing the piece, instead of 48 lines, it would have been 7:

I spent 5 ½ hours in the air
Trying to figure out how I was going to exist,
Where I fit
In this life I barely recognized.

We could have been any two kids,
Making stupid mistakes when we felt we were at
Our most invincible.

***

That’s my edit, but her words and the reason to cut the other 41 lines? We know the story by now from her other poems. Even still, LaPlace manages to capture, with the above lines, a unique take on the same story—everyone’s story—and juxtaposing the collision course she felt she was on with the use of a single word that’s the embodiment of youth, invincible, was—even through 48 lines—gut-punch emotional.

So this poem and “Illinois” are the rare exceptions—although the end of the latter poem is a stand-alone, IMO, and it’s another layer she peels back for us.

It was a heartbreak, and yet it was a triumph and while she has much to teach us and herself, it’s this twice-her-age-poet’s opinion (for whatever that’s worth! ha) that she’s a bit too mired in the details of this particular marriage—can’t find an objective peak. That’s okay, but it’s about the art, not the poet, and that’s the real test of the artist. It is deeply personal, and we bleed for the world, but it better be their color red or it’s not for them.

Being able to transcend, which she does well in more than enough pieces in this collection, is where she’s headed with time and that’s why she’s someone to watch, read, absorb.

When LaPlace returns, time and again to her mothering, there isn’t a doubt that for all the vitriol she feels and spills toward herself, she made a child who is indeed the best of her, and isn’t that the way of mothers? Watching your child behave better than you did, more mature than you do, at times.

I wanted to see her transcend her bottomless mother-shame, but she holds fast to it, showing us her still-skinless places, but I found myself rooting for her daughter, and for the poet to honor that best part of her. When she returns to that self-destruction, it feels a little like an art house movie that could have had an ending to redeem the dark, Scandinavian landscape and plot, but chose to just let everyone die for the sake of “bleak.”

She finally gives us what we need in the poem about her family and light (“Sunshine Child.”) The push-and-pull between love and pain is one felt deeply through her words and they do the job. I found myself in the tugging and in the pain, the light, the stew of it.

I notice LaPlace uses the word “deserve” repeatedly and throughout the poems, and the truth is, no one deserves anything. We don’t earn happiness. We don’t earn our own downfall. No one “deserves.” You really think the Trump kid “deserves” his (likely) $100K Christmas gifts he’ll get tomorrow morning? Do you think he “deserves” the legacy he’s going to have to work his entire life to overcome, or hey, transform?

There’s no “deserve.” There is only cause and effect and the other 98% is dumb luck. Ms. LaPlace, you deserve your daughter and she deserves you, which is the highest praise and softness I have to proffer the both of you. All we can do, in the end, is “deserve” what we have by honoring what we have and who we create—whether another human being or ourselves.

The trick is to recognize how lucky we get, and India LaPlace does, whether she knows it or not, she does—which is her final cry of triumph, behind the frightened, lost and wounded girl, behind the despair, behind the snarling sexual hubris mingled with unwarranted shame—underneath it all, she shows us her sunlight. She shows us that indeed she’s a girl who’s difficult to love, but so what? Who wants to be easy to love?

It’s a lie, “love is infinite.” It isn’t. Love is a time commitment, an emotional and physical and spiritual-energy commitment, and bottom line, we have finite amounts of both. She, and her work, are worth the time, she’s worth the energy and commitment.

But not if you want “easy.” Not if you want un-messy. If you want your presents nice and neat and tied up (wink), I’ve got a book filled with sickly cloying “aww,” overflowing with milk and honey you can read (wink, wink—but this one’s better, trust me).

If you want easy, watch a rom-com. She isn’t easy, India LaPlace, but she’s worth it.

Follow her on all her social media stuff because that’s what you do.

And whether I know the writers or poets I read or not, I review with integrity—that’s the thing about art. And as Sad Discoveries shows us—art is, ideally, bigger than nearly everything—if you do it right.

So as a parting au revoir, may the ghosts of your past, present and future be authentic and remember—when it’s your own ghosts that haunt you, it’s not a haunting.

It’s that moment in the mirror when you meet your own eyes, and for reasons you can’t quite place, you’re afraid—even as you smile.

Merry-Fucking-Christmas to all you mothers, whores, poets, sluts, lovers, biters, gaggers, ballers, feelers, artists, writers, pain-eaters—from my dark to yours—

Here we are.

Je te vois, and as always—

Peace.

J.A.

 

 

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