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LUCA: Discourse on Life and Death

Rochelle Owens, Author LUCA: Discourse on Life and Death

A veteran of the New York avant-garde still best remembered for her rebellious '60s play Futz, Owens (New and Selected Poems 1961–1996) resurrects the painter Leonardo da Vinci; two of his models, Flora and Mona (Lisa); his student Salia; and Luca, his teacher. Luca is given the poem's near-omniscient "I"; the piece as a whole is less concerned with the biographical Leonardo than with the physical, social and emotional circumstances of representative creation and the elaboration of sexual expression in portraits. To this end there are many descriptions of women's bodies that are spat back at the reader-as-observer in colloquial bursts: "a gift pale breasts intoned Lenny// see the rapt reader going// into the space of the enigma/ you put the lukewarm salt water into/ the cup of your hand// pudenda Lenny smirked smegma whispered." ("Lenny's"—da Vinci's—homosexuality, although often alluded to, is less vividly re-created.) As Marjorie Perloff notes in her introduction, "violation—the violation of one's space by those who want to control or absorb it" is Owens's subject here, scathingly investigated throughout. Even the achromatic presence of Sigmund Freud ("Siggy"—introduced doubtless because of the famous essay by Freud on da Vinci) does not ring false. After all the varied and reiterated first-person declarations ("I the young cornstalk" "blazes down loosened milkweed crust ash/ soil grass animal outlines" and "rose like a// column of blood," among other actions), by the end of the book traveling exhibitions are equated with imperialism as Flora and Mona accompany Columbus, and "Tenochtitlan's terrain" is forever appropriated and altered. The many over-the-top interpersonal excoriations along the way won't be for everyone, but the sustained focus and felt particularities are impressive. (May 15)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2001
Release date: 01/01/2001
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