Tag Archives: Susana H. Case

Dead Shark on the N Train
by Susana H. Case

Review by Angela Gregory-Dribben

Dead Shark on the N Train
Susana H Case
(2020, Broadstone Books)
$22.50, Paper

Susana H. Case’s Dead Shark on the N Train, proof of a poet’s practice in discernment, demonstrates the existence, and subsequent power of seeing, gender parallels across cultures and time. Poems whisk readers away on global expeditions. We visit a Portuguese colony in India where “churches are full of doves that sound like the ghosts of crying babies.” We hike “uphill from Pokhara to Sarangkot, for a better view of the Annapurnas.” Where Case finds, “women have less, the higher I go.” I feel myself wobbly as a passenger on the wrist of this poet’s long arm sweeping across the world picking up pieces of truths like “Steel bars hang over many a man’s hangover.”

Not only does she string lighted strands joining time to time, artist to artist, murderer to the murdered, lover to lover, male to female but also from the moments within love’s cycles. The immortality grief provides lovers, “he shakes his head—no, misses the woman who, when music played, swayed close to him in moonlight. He likes to imagine she breathes underwater, will know to swim to where the rice floats.” Or the seemingly inevitable end to love, “Because he leaves the way men always leave.”

Case brilliantly provides just the right amount of detail to make each poem work, to connect it to the larger body of work, and to intrigue a reader’s senses to want to take a closer look. She selected such engaging stories that it spurs me beyond its own text to sift through history, spin a globe, become acquainted with other’s beliefs. “Menominee Indians believe the universe started with a drop of water. Every killing. Every poem. Every storm.”

Case plays rough with her camera lens. In the first section, Living Dolls, I often feel as if I am side-by-side with her investigating gender: her own, that of others, similarities in the naming of a woman over cultures. In the section Crime Scenes, Case uses Francis Glesener Lee, who could teach forensics but as a woman could not pursue a career as a detective, as the poems’ oculus. “Glessner Lee wants you to think.” Susana H. Case wants you to think.

She uses the eye of the forensic scientist to write the poem, bringing to the reader’s attention how remarkably similar the observation of a poet is to that of the investigator. These almost-not-quite list poems press observation against the page igniting a reader’s awareness of the way we occupy space in our homes and our relationships. “Observe the rope thin woman, the crosscut saw and peavey, dirty dishes on the table, garbage on the floor, liquor bottles, broken chair, the dead woman curled up in their common bed.”

Even more startling about this work is that the poet’s management of her own attention to detail and universal commonality isn’t accomplished only in the breadth of the collection, it is even within the individual line “We were lizards dreaming like birds.”

Case’s latest collection, Dead Shark on the N Train, due out in June 2020 from Broadstone Books, is alert, vigilant, committed to elevating the details so that we all may see.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 2.

Angela DribbenAngela Gregory-Dribben’s poetry and essays can be found or are forthcoming in Main Street Rag, Deep South, San Pedro River Review, Crab Creek Review, Crack the Spine, New Southern Fugitive, and others. A Bread Loaf alum, she is currently a student in Randolph College’s MFA.

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“All marriages are dangerous”: the Floor Plan of Susana H. Case’s 4 Rms w Vu

Reviewed by Laura Madeline Wiseman

4 Rms w Vu
4 Rms w Vu
by Susana H. Case
(2014 Mayapple Press)
$15.95 paper
ISBN: 9781936419395

Susana H. Cases’s new book 4 Rms w Vu offers a New York City apartment, small and compact in the form of poems and comprised of the rooms needed to do the business of living and leaving—bedroom, family room, storage room, dying room. 4 Rms w Vu begins in the bedroom with the second husband, the space where the couple, the beloved and the I/eye ball socks:

…over opposite sides of the bed
as if it were a boxing ring,
which it is not, most of the time (18).

Such domesticity being done by both members of the couple challenges traditional gender roles while also offering the complicated give and take of any relationships, the way we dance and struggle on the same carpet square in turn. Marriages might very well be dangerous as Einstein wrote (10), but in this danger there can be mutual love. Case doesn’t point blame at the husband over marriage squabbles, the lost family dog, the cramped couch they share, without owning her own dark matter, her own faults, those fault lines of guilt. She writes,

I’m always hungry
until it gets too hot and then
I’m never hunger (7).

Here in the opening poem to 4 Rms w Vu, Case points to the wandering map of our tight square-footage, of complicity in our struggles, the way our interior spaces merge with our exterior ones—those loves who walk with us here. And if we fight, we also love. It is in this urban space where lovers bring red lighters and cigarettes, patchouli oil and good food that we battle with ourselves over territory asking, “If I were not your wife, would you choose me now” (12). We battle and we fear what might be taken away. In “And Now Lets Revisit Sex and Death” Case worries over an odd bump on the husband’s lip, thinking “I’ll shoot you myself, kill you right now/ for carelessly leaving me in this fucked-up place alone” (17).

Moving from present to past, part two of 4 Rms w Vu is situated in the family room, the place where Case’s parents and her own young self reside. Here, her parents attempt to make peace with the female wild child conceived late in life with no second child to serve as companion. Still “against/the safety of a red brick wall” (21), Case is chaos, the girl who gets black eyeliner tattooed on her eyelids, the one who never bleeds and then bleeds too much, the teen who flows “into every boy who offered” (26), and the one who “with these legs/ knows exactly how to want” (31). Wild, reckless child or not, despite a car crash mid-argument with a young lover, Case is careful to present what didn’t happen to her, but could have—boys wasted on smack, girls who kill their babies or at five months pregnant kill themselves rather than face the reality of teen pregnancy in the era of Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, and teens who smoke in parks. She writes

Without two pennies to rub together,
they rub together—that respite
before adult life…. (26).

In this room, Case is as watchful as her parents, as full of care as those meant to care for her and in so doing she, sure-footed and city smart, charts and survives an urban childhood that any of us would count ourselves lucky to survive.

The final two rooms in 4 Rms w Vu are the storage room of former lovers, that open house of memory, and the dying room of those lost or who may be lost in the future, including the self. In the first, Case reminds us just how big memory is, “More than four and a half million people/ ride underground each day in New York” (37), and “The house was noisy, a hundred people” (40). In such a floor plan, these urban brick apartments, bricked up buildings, are places where we are both together and separate. “Loneliest Planet,” a poem that responds to a film, reminds Case of a former lover when watching the cinematic couple “because even before they’re not talking,/ they’re not talking” (43). These are not easy poems to walk through and that of course is their art; this city real estate, this emotional arrangement is the world couples build and tear down, refinish and repair, for we either stay where we are and patch the cracks and water damage or we are “pleased to be leaving you for a better/ more affordable space” (45). In the last room, the dying room of section four, Case presents a shortened book of the dead—friends, lovers, creatures, strangers—but even among these dead, Case offers a prayer, an incantation, a hope. She writes, “The best thing to die from is living” (65) and presents a litany of let me’s, these fierce assertions to live fully, live with pleasure, live to the end with mind still intact, a life where she’d “still like/ my red lipstick please” (65). 4 Rms w Vu is a book full of the rich spaces we share with those we love, even if only briefly. We scream at one another here. We make love here. We live and we die and how right to have Case, this wise purveyor of such space present the floor plan in compelling, complicated, smart poems.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 4.

Laura Madeline Wiseman Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her recent books are American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012), and the collaborative book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins.

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Review: Beautiful Problems: Poems by Anthony DiMatteo

Reviewed by Susana H. Case

Beautiful Problems
Beautiful Problems: Poems
by Anthony DiMatteo
(2014, WordTech Communications)
$17.10 Paper
ISBN: 9781625490711

In the recent Italian film, The Great Beauty, the protagonist, Jap, after reaching the age of 65, embarks upon an odyssey to discover what beauty means. Anthony DiMatteo, in his first book, Beautiful Problems: Poems, is on a similar quest to discover how we experience beauty in the quotidian worlds in which we move. Marital coupling and uncoupling, a stillborn child, family connections, hiking in nature, encounters with animals, even the death of a horse in a traffic accident, and the murder of a lesbian couple in Shenandoah National Park—all of these are mined for insight.

“A square inch of wilderness is a beautiful problem.” He begins. (“A Square Inch”) A beautiful problem is one that enlightens, that enhances insight into a mathematical concept, the general theory of relativity, for example. “(I]f the solution is not beautiful,” Buckminster Filler wrote, “I know it is wrong.” Like Fuller, Di Matteo draws upon this idea of beauty from the aesthetics of mathematical thinking to address larger notions of the aesthetics of the world around us, both natural and constructed, rendering these thoughts in a beautiful way.

Using some form (a sestina, for example in “Mind Games,” or a villanelle in “Mixed-up Song,” as well as several sonnets), the collection is composed largely of free verse narrative poems arranged into five sections. Di Matteo suggests that to appreciate beauty, one must “see a thing quid est, as such, at the moment / it reveals its true essence.” (“From the Standpoint of Eternity”) But, there is a playfulness here as well, when considering words, as in “Conflate the Idiom,” for example, where he writes:

They can make us and forsake us
to a crowded house alone. What
is this thing called love, why
is this thing called love or why
is love called a thing and who
would ever love a thing?

DiMatteo does this as well in the conjunction of “love and death” and “life and death” in “Exposure.”

“Beauty Is in the Heart,” he suggests, as the title of his book’s second section, poems of memory and love, though “Once gone, love’s death is complete” (“Homage to the Pemigewasset” and we must see it:

These eyes have peered from trains
into the darkness of apartments where
the one lamp glows down a long hallway.
today, they have witnessed the felling
of a two hundred year old oak, turning
from the lumberjack who thought I had asked
about the age of his chainsaw….

Eyes become a recurrent theme, as in “Animal Eyes”:

My canary goes quiet when I drift by
and looks into my eyes to ask
for something to eat and when I drift
away it sings, trying to charm me
to go into the refrigerator for the cool
lettuce. My dog looks into my eyes
to allow me to see the one light bulb
lit in the back of the hallway
of his deep brown eyes. My other dog
blasts rocket ships into my eyes
when hungry as if he were beaming up.

There is a wry humor in some of these poems. In the third section of the collection,
devoted to poems that contain animals, the poet writes:

Beauty wears no clothes
and no offense meant to the statue
but liberty wears no clothes.

Imagine a large naked woman
welcoming people to New York.
How kind and trusting, how free.

But no ferry tours happiness
or death. If one knew in advance,
who’d buy a round trip ticket?

This mastery of subtle humor that turns serious shows up again, particularly in the fourth section, poems in which the departed are in focus. In “The Favor,” DiMatteo unwillingly agrees to take the dead ashes of a student’s husband with him to Yosemite to scatter them from Mount Vogelsang, and in “Old Before His Time,” a twelve-year-old boy in need of supervision “knew / what it took to look madness in the eye.”

Beauty shows itself woven through this collection, the word disappearing and reappearing, the way the birds disappear and reappear in Derek Walcott’s White Egrets. There is a sadness that disappears and reappears as well, skillfully rendered, as when DiMatteo writes, for he is not a Pollyanna, “the joy of touch gives way / to a stone of grief in the end.” (“Work for a Lifetime”)


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 3.

Susana H CaseSusana H. Case is the author of several chapbooks and four full-length collections, including Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips (Anaphora Literary Press), and, most recently, 4 Rms w Vu (Mayapple Press).

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