Eve’s Red Dress
Diane Lockward
Wind Publications
ISBN Number: 1-893239-18-7

Reviewer: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Eve’s Red Dress reveals modern women’s daily temptations and tribulations in 111 pages of poems, separated into five sections, that speak frankly about subjects such as laundry, difficult relationships with parents and spouses, orgasms, and motherhood. This book, with its accessible, mostly-first-person narratives, will find an immediate fan base in readers who are Kim Addonizio fans.

Like Addonizio, Lockward’s style is direct and edgy, depicting the lives of women with compassion, zest, and bite. Some people might even use the “s" word (sassy) to describe Lockward’s verse in these pages. The similarities to Addonizio are most obvious in Lockward’s blues poems, “The Blues Going and Coming" and “Losing the Blues." These are poems that were clearly designed for performance, and have a jazzy ebb and flow.

The poems in "Eve’s Red Dress" aren’t terribly difficult to process in one or two readings, but they tend to stay with you. I had heard one of the poems, “My Husband Discovers Poetry," on the radio a year before I received this book for review, and immediately remembered the impact it had at that first hearing. The poem begins:

Because my husband would not read my poems,
I wrote one about how I did not love him…
…Stanza by stanza, I grew bolder and bolder.
Towards the end, struck by inspiration,
I wrote about my old boyfriend…"

and ends with the husband discovering the poem, and the speaker reveling in the power of her work:

You know how this story ends…
…how he uncovers the hidden poem
and sits down to read it.

But do you hear the strange sounds
that floated up the stairs that day,
the sounds of an animal, its paw caught
in one of those traps with teeth of steel?
Do you see the wounded creature
at the bottom of the stairs,
his shoulders hunched over and shaking,
fist in his mouth and choking back sobs?
It was my husband paying tribute to my art.

The sheer egotism and pleasure in revenge here are a little shocking, but absolutely gripping. The writer’s ability to communicate the pure and ugly surge of power in hurting someone who has hurt us is remarkable.

As you might expect from the title of the book, references to gardens, apples, and snakes recur throughout the poems, along with biblical allusions. Her irreverent take on Eve includes manifestations of Eve eating apple fritters or running a diner; the title poem enacts Eve’s seduction by a red dress in a closet full of blue. Fruit and fruitfulness are used in a multitude of ways, sometimes with miraculous, surreal results, as in the poem “The Barren Woman’s Dream," in which a woman told she cannot have children decides to grow them in a field:

In spring the first heads emerged,
shooting up like carrots
with tufts of fuzz on the crowns…

…By summer’s end, a field of babies
swayed like wheat in the Iowa breeze,
a bountiful harvest of babies.

Lockward engages in a lot of wordplay and has an obvious enjoyment in working with language. For instance, in “The Fruitful Woman," the writer fleshes out and plays with the idea of different fruit metaphors for women, such as “tomato" and “peach." Lockward uses humor to an advantage in many of her poems, offsetting sobering subject matter with witty asides. One of my favorite one-liners from her work was in the poem “Why I’m a Vegetarian":

…When I complained, she said,
there’s a war going on, as if that
justified Spam.

Lockward presents us with whimsical subject matter: one poem contemplates the life of the object of the crude bumper sticker joke “Wife and Dog Missing: Reward for Dog" in “The Missing Wife," and in another poem uses algebra equations to sum up a relationship with a lover. These kinds of clever, unexpected riffs work well because Lockward knows how to strike the right emotional pitch between playfulness and drama.

The oft-quoted line from Muriel Rukeyser is applicable here: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." These poems describe such a woman’s life rather fearlessly, detailing smaller wars (“The Missing Remote") along with serious tragedies (“When News Comes of a Child’s Death"). Her female speakers question God, Jesus, and their Zen masters; they also unashamedly admit their desires for wine, sex, food, and pleasures of all sorts. This is an enjoyable book to curl up with and read all in one sitting, preferably with an apple in hand.

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