Laura Costas Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth, Paycock Press, Remington, Virginia 2020 ISBN 978-o-931181-89-4,103 pages
Laura Costas’s prose poems in her book Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth are a challenge to read and understand. The book contains both the incomprehensible and the brilliant. A poet who can write this:
Dream of a song whose lyrics consist entirely of the word Yes.
deserves notice. She also welds images and words together into metaphors and produces odd, sometimes incomprehensible, sculptural combinations. Sometimes these fusions cause eccentric equivalents to an abstract expressionism of words and thought, emotions and psychological states that stretch into philosophical assertions, but sometimes just broken off fragments of suggestion. Take the poem below for an example.
Across the day-long desert, you tell your love to me by
texting fruiting digits and telespices. I reply with chimes and
But as you cross your threshold, jealous ions reverse that
tender appetite, the work of a briney rival who waits with
endless patience to pull the cork on bitchcraft.
She doesn’t even want the tumble. With her, it’s hornets in
the air till the snoring starts and another page of your diary
burns to ash.
The static splash will deafen us both.
What is the book about? Most readers look, even if only subconsciously, for some type of structure and ordering of the thoughts they read in a book. “Ariadne Awakens” does have a master plan and it is the Ariadne myth. The introduction and the back cover book blurbs address this myth. Lee Upton on the back cover writes that Laura Costas states in her introduction “What does it mean to live outside the imprisoning metrics of ideology?” She enacts the possibility of freedom in poems that continually defy expectations. This is beautiful, glistening work that keeps resisting our predictions.” Does it? This review hopes to briefly explore that question.
The story of Ariadne, her father Minos, and Theseus and the minotaur is readily available from sources on the internet and in the local library. However, this book is not a narrative with the persona of the Greek myths, but a telling thru modern-day metaphors of the human condition. The villain of the book is the depersonalization from human political and socio-economic systems identified as male, which have built their own labyrinth that traps its victims. The poems play out symbolic dramas. The problem for the reader is that the expression of such dramas is both vague and highly original, and so not readily recognizable.
Let’s transcribe a sequence of 3 poems taken at random and wash ourselves in its communication.
Released from productivity, struck beige by the cold,
winter vegetation slips off the wheel. A forgotten path rises
to carry small feet through transparent grasses, crisp to the
tip of where past meets future, right now.
There will be no device to photograph like in the darkness,
play us inconsequential tunes, steal our geometry. The
constellations will relax and breathe, free to tell the
generations how the world began and ended and began again,
If the sky is the white of a porcelain city, with its vapor
structures and suburbs of thought, is there somewhere,
among those parallel lines, also a parallel life, with its lost
dogs and carpets too good to walk on?
Will we all meet, as they say, in happy reunion, smoothed
and universally excused, so long as I can see reciprocal
crumbs up there which perfectly match the ones down here,
but for the cracks that let in the gravity?
Or will this day empty into the next, and so on, and so on,
end over end, elbows out to break the fall, shadows softening
the walls, you and I in fleeting symmetry.
In the runoff groove, luscious fruits breathe a full-color
heaven, and here’s Sunday’s black and white paper full of
good news on Saturday night. We’ve won, you see. All the
bullets of the world found home and are bestilled, tucked
snugly within the unspeakables’ corporeal folds,
But, dance no further than that narrow, endless, empty space
because off the edge of that world there’s only grief—-it’s in the
atmosphere I’m told—-and the twist will end in tears.
Reading the above 3 prose poems I feel like I’m inhabiting a philosophical seminar and not a real human world that reaches out and grabs you with its physical presence. Throughout the book are words such as “forgotten,” “transparent,” “darkness,” “inconsequential,” “vapor’, “lost,” “crumbs,” “cracks,” “empty.” “shadows,” “unspeakables,” “empty space.” Though the words on the list are different figures of speech, sometimes adjectives, some verbs, sometimes nouns, the root of each word often connotes a vacancy, a shadow of non-being, but not necessarily death. Even an adjective so counter to non-being as is luscious in “luscious fruits” is mainly an abstraction. The visual sense of “full-color heaven is written, but the sense of vision can be said to be less than the sense of taste. Is that quibbling on my part? Perhaps, but the reality of the images is metaphoric, philosophical. I don’t get the feel of the real world.
Now Laura Costas does not write cliche’. Her expressions are highly original. Here is a short gem titled “Tell”:
We read each other by the light of fireflies, perfect
unintelligence. What will we find to talk about once the
lights go on again?
This short poem speaks directly. The abstract emptiness doesn’t overpower the expression. There is an overall theme in the book—-A finding and following Ariadme’s thread which takes us into and out of the labyrinth of words, metaphors, emotions. A short poem like the one above transcends the philosophical plan. The “light of fireflies” is an original way to read another person. There is a physical presence we feel in our imagination as we apprehend the image. The word “unintelligence” is a bare blanket word that contradicts illumination and discovery. Does the mystery of this experience leave us dumbfounded? You can argue one way or the other but what is important is unique illumination which the image provides. It is not the abstract thought but the glow of the experience which is the marvel.
If the poet has faults, they are not the faults of an amateur. Has she articulated her vision sufficiently? Has she communicated with her readers? Poets take us by the hand with their words and lead us into their almost inexpressible visions. The book “Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth is both a success and a failure. Is the average reader ready for the singular language of the book? I doubt it.
This book of prose poems is not a traditional book of poetry. The vapors of language obfuscate and confuse as well as reveal reality. Is the sensibility of the poet too eccentric to communicate? Perhaps. Is the reader’s voyage into the book worth the effort? Perhaps. You have to be adventurous though, and you have to expect odd expression and an individual path into and out of the world like a pilgrim holding a thread into and out of a crepuscular reality.
© Laura Costas and Dan Cuddy
Laura Costas is an artist, a writer, and Washington, DC native. She is the author of Fabulae, Tales for an Age of Ambivalence, and Honest Stories. She is interviewed and reads her work on Grace Cavalieri’s Poet and the Poem.
Dan Cuddy was previously a contributing editor with the Maryland Poetry Review and with Lite: Baltimore’s Literary Newspaper. He has been published in many small magazines over the years, such as NEBO, Antioch Review, and Connecticut River Review. In 2003, his book of poems, Handprint On The Window, was published by Three Conditions Press.