Bad Star by Rebecca Hazelton
YesYes Books, 2013; 34 pp
Reviewed by Billie Duncan
Bad Star takes a journey through a world of pain as pleasure and winds up at a destination of actual pain, emotional agony, and finally recognition. Rebecca Hazelton creates a complex woman who follows the bad star but longs to be recognized, to stand out, to be—as she puts it in “Some Surprise”— “a bright star in the wrong constellation.” This chapbook might well be a bright star, but it seems to be in the correct asterism.
Several themes reappear throughout the book, most notably uncomfortable nature images, starting with the first official poem, “Make Good”: “Promise me rain coming down. / Promise me fox kits will drown.” She moves through her poems jumping across images, inserting strange scenes, from fruit rotting and fermenting on the ground gobbled up by drunken monkeys, to a feeling inside her like the dying hiss of a goose abandoned in the snow by his flock, to “the intended mercy / catch and release / of the speckled trout / trailing blood in the water / for any hungry thing to follow,” to the rancid smell of the blossoms of ornamental pears, to “stacks of animals / a still life studying / the many pretty ways to die.”
There are also some quite interesting uses of literary characters in relation to dominating males in three of the poems. In “Self Portrait With Unsewn Shadow,” the woman wishes to be seen as Peter Pan—the leader who pretends not to cry and sees a girl’s tears as blackmail—who sees love as a choice between the savage Tiger Lily and wifely Wendy Darling.
The Alalanta/Hippomenes relationship in “Not Atlanta or Atalanta” is seen in the third person as the poem braids together the ancient story of a woman racing to maintain her sexual freedom with images of the distractions of modern weddings (along with more fruit references associated with the city of Atlanta). But the woman does not want to be distracted by these golden apples, and her husband is never named.
Most fascinating of the literary character poems is “Bound Like Issac [sic].” The woman compares herself to the Biblical Isaac, who walked meekly behind his father Jacob as Jacob led him to be sacrificed to God:
I have been unknowing and pliant,
worse, I loved that hand,
even as it sharpened
the blade, I pressed
to its unyielding,
lipped at bitter grain
and called myself fortunate.
But, unlike Isaac, the voice of God did not come to save her. So, in these poems, the woman is in three perspectives: the dominating male, the observer of the deceived woman, and the one dominated and sacrificed on the altar of love.
Hazelton’s use of white space as punctuation is excellent, and her seamless sewing of seemingly disparate images is skilled. “The Table of Events” at the beginning is clever, and it is interesting that the events, like memories, do not always line up with what happens in the poems themselves. The one note that felt false was “Presumed Lost.” Both rhythmically and in terms of content, it did not seem to belong in this book. It would also have been nice to know the significance of the spelling change to “Issac”. But, those are tiny flaws in an otherwise intriguing read.