Sixteen essays on the place of poetry in the cultural and physical landscape of Southern California.
Despite the title, being married to “the icepick killer” (actor David Dukes, who died in 2000) is not actually the focus of these musings by poet Muske-Dukes (Literature and Creative Writing/Univ. of Southern California). Rather, she is bent on “considering the influence of the manufacture of powerful images on the idea of the subversive,” with the subversive here being poetry. The city of Los Angeles, specifically its isolation, works well for Muske-Dukes, since “alienation is the real home of poets.” Yet the scattered, media-obsessed population of this sprawling burg embraces poetry—and creative writing in general—to the extent that billboards plastered with quotations from Dickinson, Eliot, and Bukowski appear along the freeway. The author presents the literary history of Southern California as evidence that this love hasn't occurred in a vacuum, but quickly moves on to offer recent specifics about some piquant situations created by the collision of poetry and film. Hired as a consultant on the WWII film U-571 starring Matthew McConaughey, she and fellow poet Stephen Yenser are asked to provide “poetic” words to be uttered over the final scene of the shipwrecked crew. (What a surprise: it didn’t work out.) Poetry and politics also make a curious mix: the author reports on a 1998 gathering of 50 poets at Clinton's White House, where the president's face lit up at the mention of Seamus Heaney. Interspersed are a graceful brace of essays about how Muske-Dukes met her husband, how their careers resonated, his thoughts about acting, and the epitaph from Shakespeare (“Let me play the lion too”) she and their daughter chose for his gravestone.
Narrow and uneven, but soaring in spurts.