Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Poetry capable of elevating the reader into new ways of thinking about language often runs the risk of isolating and ostracizing the reader through challenge and difficulty in the breakage of paradigms. At the same time, buffering the reader and easing them into a difficult work often requires a diffusion of ideas through an accessibility of experimentation and transparent conceptualization. Doing so often risks compromising works that are intellectually evolved and wall themselves up. In Deborah Meadows’s latest collection of writing, The Demotion of Pluto: Poems and Plays, these fine lines are approached and often transcended through the poet’s consistent use of external influences and forces. Her book here, like many of her previous works, erupts through lineages, borrowing tokens from other authors and thinkers contemporary, historical, and ancient. This meshing and mixing produces positive results that transform The Demotioninto far more than a “difficult book,” allowing for rewards simply for sitting through the turbulence of the reading experience.
Buck Euro: Some of that ugly, the stink, that trauma: it really makes me sick. That’s why we need a story. We get involved, forget our woes, feel transport.
(from “The Demotion of Pluto” on page 54)
As identified and fortified in her previous book of 2013, Translation—the bass accompaniment: Selected Poems, Meadows harkens on an explosive set of influences to inform her work, similar to the recent “handholding” work of Tracie Morris, to name one example. Rather than list all of her previous influencers and collaborators here, I will simply list the cast of characters in the 47-page title play of The Demotion: Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Odysseus, Ghost of Fox, Anonymous Endangered Fisher, Cosmonaut Sergei Rikalev, HAM operator Margaret Laquinto, Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky, Buck Euro, Dark Imagebase, and Leo and Hercules (two chimpanzees). As one might assume through the literary nature of these characters, Meadows pulls direct allusions and greater, loftier symbolic meaning through contemporary interpretations. Like the best drama, characters represent more than themselves, and Meadows sufficiently explores representation as both denotation (historical) and connotation (adaptive) in her own context. Bordering on themes of entertainment, absurdity, and critical inquiry, Meadows’s play, like her other dramatic works, is not quite content in any single space of poetic intention