Crystal Set #16: Locked From the Outside by Susie Timmons (Yellow Press, 1990)

Locked From the Outside by Susie Timmons (Yellow Press, 1990). Softcover, 57 pages, with cover by Alex Katz and introduction by Alice Notley.


The poems in Locked From the Outside are like catalogs of looking, sculptural vulnerable intellect, being sharp and invisible in a way, considering what it means to use words to see when one is being prohibited from vision--by war, by gender, by sex, by general shittiness--but still seeing something else entirely. And while the world of things is idiotic and hilarious ("a troupe of seventeen year old / Iron Maiden freaks puking inside their tent"), these poems' attention to the vibrating presence of the self-in-the-world, of thinking working and working against--charged by Timmons's wit and care--deliver an imaginative refusal. When her poems come up against the second person pronoun there's always some sort of gentle fire spreading around those lines, like in "Bamboo Union," such an awesomely weird title that juts up against the malaise of its first line, "One day is the same as another to me." But the poem continues, the "you" dropping in mid-poem to be aimed at: "I know you hate me, but too bad, if you hate me // Amazing audience tells you whats banned / my pussy, that's what, ostrich feathers." I mean, these lines are amazing. They remind me of Alice Notley's short poem "Fuck You, Man: Or Rose Take Me Back": "I'm sorry I've / pissed you off for the / last fifteen years, / but I haven't." Is Susie Timmons a Scorpio, too? I hope she is. More of that color of refusal: "What is an insult, or what is 'cute'" ("Locked From the Outside"); "I guess I'm supposed to be envious / out of control and full of regret" and "I tell you what to read" ("Forty Yous"). I like that. Or is she a Capricorn, or even a Leo? From "A Ghostly Shark": "all I ever wanted the only thing I ever wanted / the one thing I ever wanted out of life / was to be King of the People." Which then becomes "all I ever wanted the only thing I ever wanted / the one thing I wanted out of life / was to feel you up. / and burn you up, baby, if I may be so bold // detergent." Amazing. And Timmons always wins out, like the Katz painting on the cover, by answering with a hard look. From "Locked From the Outside": "here is where you cause something to happen   I mean you have a body / liable to the subjunctive / to do / MAGIC.    namely / as opposed / urgently desiring transcendence." I like reading this as "opposed [to] urgently desiring transcendence," but she gets it both ways. The hard look is "to do / MAGIC," to carry that in the imagining body toward what's possible. "I'm going to stand at the bus stop now / I'm going to launch all my worries / Into the pale blue atmosphere / Today, where sexy clouds will treat them to oblivion" ("Boulevard of Ghosts"). But Timmons's wish is also to stay deeply in the world to "experience description / examine the urge to describe / feelings" even if, or because, "description is impossible" ("Baby With a Gun"). Which leads to the last line "How can I make this place?" It's fun to spend time in Timmons's making, like in the poem "Little Life, Belgrade," who associative attention is an "I dream this, I dream that" rewrite of New York School dailiness: "Four new records, 20 voices / the lush particulars of a moose herd on 14th St. / antiquarian or a snap to / black and white photo of traffic, noonday / Belgrade, November 19, 1963. / Frank O'Hara, Adventures in Poetry / in the half light." 


Timmons's three books were recently collected in Superior Packet, published by Wave in 2015. Until now it hasn't been easy to get ahold of Timmon's earlier works, Hog Wild (Frontward Books, 1979) and Locked From the Outside. Cassandra Gillig sent me this copy a few years ago. In 2007, CA Conrad wrote an enthusiastic little essay for the Poetry Project Newsletter on trying to track down Locked From the Outside on the recommendation of Eileen Myles. "We need this book back in print!" It's back now. Locked From the Outside was the winner of the inaugural (and only?) Ted Berrigan Award from the Yellow Press, selected by Notley, Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo, and Ron Padgett. Notley's introduction is a gem. I've retyped the first paragraph on the rationale for the Ted Berrigan Award:

One of the more pronounced themes of Ted Berrigan's poetry career was his encouragement of younger poets: he spoke & practiced an ethic of encouragement. Partly he was obsessed by the fact that he had managed to become a poet in spite of obstacles of class background & everyone's & his general obtuseness about poetry. One thing he used to say was to the effect, 'All I've ever wanted is to be a poet, & I've gotten my wish... And I didn't say "great poet"--I don't want that--I said "poet."' The implication was that to want to be a "great poet" was a slightly inferior aspiration; to be a poet was magical & complete. (Whether or not he was a great poet is another topic.) But, in his view, poetry was also a profession, like others, a very honorable one, & not exclusive or special. Anyone who really wanted to be a poet should of course be welcome into the guild, whatever that person's aesthetic persuasions. In his years of teaching--both in universities & institutions & on his own in our apartment or on the streetcorner (he continuously taught)--he actively searched for new poets, read anyone's manuscript, talked to anyone who might be willing to serve poetry out of the love for it. He catalyzed many people into the profession. And though he seemed to proselytize for the New York School--because he had found his kind of wit & inspiration there--he liked all kinds of poetry & understood very well different poets' different drives & needs. So the idea of a Ted Berrigan Award to a young poet, with book publication as the prize, is not only fitting, it's obvious. I'm pleased to announce the existence of the annual Ted Berrigan Award, given by the Yellow Press, & that the winner of the first annual Ted Berrigan Award is Susan Timmons.

About Simmons, Notley writes:

Lately it's been rare for me to begin reading a book of poems & want to keep reading it. Since I did want to keep reading Susan Timmons' LOCKED FROM THE OUTSIDE, I began to wonder again about what keeps one reading. It's not "ability" or "talent," "mastery of form" that keeps one reading: no one's that interested in another person's merits. One thing that makes the reader read is something fluid & life-like conveyed, a voice, a personality, a drive, a style of wit. I'm interested in the fact that Susan Timmons' poetry voice has wit, has personality, never tells us what's really going on (is not confessional or even explicit, though there's a lot of apartment & city decor) & yet manages to effect in the reader a sense that the experience of a given poem is complete. As I turn from page to page of the book, I just want to know what's going to say next: & this mysteriously has to do with the poetry's content--as if its content is its engagement with myself the reader, in the process of its speaking to me, simply speaking. As the title of the book might imply, the reader has the key to unlock the poem, by becoming the person spoken to. These are lonely poems, along-in-a-room poems, but they are very amusing & rather unsettling.