Review of Helen Losse’s “Seriously Dangerous”

by Nancy Posey

by Helen Losse
Main Street Rag, 2011
ISBN: 9781599482897

By sheer coincidence, Helen Losse’s new collection of poetry Seriously Dangerous, published in an April marked by a record number or tornadoes and by flood, opens in “The Danger of Pretense” with the image of a “breeze …gather[ing] courage to kill. The poems Losse has assembled are as much a testament to nature’s power as to an awareness of the smallest subtleties of the natural world—a world inhabited by humans.

Losse takes stock symbols of literature—dark and light, drought and flood, the cycle of seasons—and paints them fresh. The synaesthesia she achieves, evoking all the senses through the voice of a speaker with heightened awareness, surprises the reader, often through the most commonplace details.

In her poem “Where Light Is Going,” the speaker first piles up autumn images she loves, “that which floats on the wind”—a catalog of sounds and smells and sights, “the long train-whistle that rides / on smoky air” —then shifts to a backward view, noting “that which I love / often comes from memories.”

Losse’s poetry contains a spiritual undercurrent. Even the title poem “Seriously Dangerous,” alluding to the South’s dark not-so-distant past, centers around that danger: “the cross without a savior” that “cannot burn away filth & dross, / nor wash us clean. . . .” Her poem “Queen Anne’s Lace, ” beginning with an observation of the lacy late-summer wild flowers, circles around from historical allusion to English royalty to “Saint Anne, who. . . bore Mary, the Mother of God.” The expression of the spiritual in these poems, though, seems to emerge not in a formal way but through nature, as she notes that “Grace abound in the ocean” (“Where Light Is Going”) and observes three deer, in “The First Night of Winter” that pause within sight to “preach a sermon without words.”

Not only does Losse enliven her poetry with musical references—dissonant sounds of a city summer, singing off key, a father’s harmonica—but her words themselves play to the ear. “Jazz” is infused with Italian musical terms that roll off the tongue, but she continues sound play such as that found in “Prayer by the River,” in which she juxtaposes dought with doubters and dragon flies.

An underlying theme in this collection is not just the certain movement of time, the shifting seasons, but the human tendency to wish for what we have not. This discontent finds its richest expression in “No Circle, No Loss,” a poem balanced between city and mountains, when the speaker “woke up early, amid springtime flowers, / hoping for snow. . . .” Losse turns this disappointment to surprise throughout the book, and in this poem in particular, hearing “what [she] did not expect: Laughter.”

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