Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: The Horizontal Poet by Jan Steckel


Nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) is Jan Steckel's first full-length poetry collection. I found Steckel's poetry to be personal and quite intimate, and the collection as a whole ambitious in its undertaking.

While reading The Horizontal Poet I found that Jan Steckel is passionate about her poetry, but through her poetry it's obvious that there is more. Steckel is a retired doctor suffering from a disability, an activist for bisexual and disability rights, and a writer. Steckel's personal experiences and interests are reflected in her poetry, and she weaves in medicine, social issues and concerns, as well as personal and relationship experiences, all in a rich, sensual, down to earth style.

I loved that this collection is not divided into sections and that her poems are interwoven. Both the intimacy of Steckel's poetry and the format serve to make that all-important connection between the reader and poet. It's almost as if the reader were looking through a window into the poet's life and thoughts as events take place, life evolves, and her memories come to life. For example, you will find a love poem "The History of Our Love" next to one filled with her social concerns, "The Wind and the Boy," or another where she bears her soul about losing a patient, "Swallowing Flies," alongside a poem where she indulges her love of hanging out in strip joints, "The Naked and the Dread."
The California Founding Fathers, in their wisdom,
reckoned a red-blooded working man
could control himself under the influence
of hooch and boobies, or coffee and coochie,
but not hooch and coochie both.
   "The Naked and the Dread"(Excerpt - Page 7)
Steckel's prose throughout this 57 poetry collection is both lyrical and direct as she uses a mixture of both the narrative form of verse and rich poetic metaphors. While you will find that in some of her poems Steckel uses medical terminology in a rather unique way, it is her compassionate and haunting poems depicting experiences during her medical career -- "Swallowing Flies,""Charity and the Hurricane," and "The Underwater Hospital,"
Too much water on the inside,
nothing but water on the outside,
and not even a Diet Coke to drink.
I'm just going to sit down here.
I'm just going to put my head in my hands.
I'm just going to let my shoulders shake.
I'm not crying.
I'm too dry.
  "Charity and the Hurricane"(Excerpt - Page 14)
and others depicting her own personal, physical pain --""Halloween Wedding,""Nightkeeper"-- that impacted me the most.
No St. George of the scalpel's
been favored by God to hack it out.
No poppies can put it to sleep for long.
No song of self-care, no meditative mantra,
no hypnotic chant or New Age cant
can touch the invisible beast hunkered
over its leg of woman, chewing,
chewing.
   "Nightkeeper" (Excerpt - Page 46)
There are whole poems in this collection that left an impression, and then there are others where only certain lines stayed with me. I read and re-read this book a few times before reviewing it. The bottom line is that Steckel's poetry is distinctive in that it can be read from her perspective as the bisexual poet, the disabled poet, the medical poet, or for its social content. In The Horizontal Poet you get it all, and in the end I found that reading Jan Steckel's poetry from the woman's perspective as a whole, this collection makes an even stronger statement.

I will leave you with excerpts from two of my favorite poems.
❀❀❀❀❀❀

Haditha

Who will tell
what sank into the sand here?
We have become
liberators of souls from bodies.
We will be welcomed
to the land of the dead
with garlands of fingers and toes.

In the land between two rivers
where lists were first written,
who will list the names of the dead?
Who can explain the reasons we came?

Who will sing sorrow? Sing sorrow.
The flood has passed over us
and our mouths are stopped
with sand.

❀❀❀

Tiresias

So light her touch
so soft her tongue
blue-veined ankles
vellum skin
cover her mouth with yours
pin her to the sheets
unleash in her the riot in you
make her feel what you feel
make her twist under your hand
till she bursts like a muscat
with a sweeter taste than summer

On the day I step from the balcony,
on the day I yield to the sea,
I will remember (beast that I am)
I was more of a man than he.

❀❀❀❀❀❀
About the Author: Jan Steckel is a retired Harvard- and Yale-trained pediatrician, an activist for disability and bisexual rights, a poet, and a writer. Her poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared widely. Her Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) won the Gertrude Fiction Chapbook Award. The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgest Press, 2006) won a Rainbow Award for lesbian and bisexual poetry. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband, Hew Wolff.
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Category: LGBT Poetry
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Zeitgeist Press, December 2011
Source: Received from author for review
Grade: B+

Visit Jan Steckel here

7 comments:

  1. Wow! Thank you for the very kind review, Hilcia. I appreciate all the time and thought you put into it, and I'm just delighted that you enjoyed the book.

    Copies can be purchased online from Zeitgeit Press at http://www.zeitgeist-press.com. For a signed copy, please send a check for $14.00 + $2.00 shipping, or a total of $16, to Jan Steckel/PO Box 18797/Oakland, CA 94619.

    Gratefully,
    Jan

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  2. Jan Steckel, I enjoyed the variety found in this collection -- not only in subject matter, but in how those subjects were approached. The different styles used throughout the book kept me reading.

    Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  3. I agree with Hilcia. This is a rich, sensual book of poems.

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  4. Mary, it was! I'm so glad you enjoyed it too. :)

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  5. Thanks for reading with such attention, and (in my highly interested opinion) good taste.

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  6. Hew Wolff, what to say but that the collection deserved the attention. Thanks for stopping by. :D

    Orannia, Haditha is an excellent poem and one of my favorites. You should read it from the top... the complete poem IS amazing!

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