Best digested over multiple readings, Gould’s poetry collection Resurrection Party is a delicacy for the poetic palate. The tightness and clarity of Gould’s language belies the complexity shimmering beneath the surface of each carefully crafted poem. Flitting gracefully between the varieties of existence between and beyond life and death, this collection is united by a powerful conviction in the transience and mutability of all things, even states as commonly held to be permanent as death.
The anchoring concept of this collection, as the title suggests, is resurrection, by which Death itself is transmuted into a merely temporary state. Gould beautifully sets the tone for her collection with her first poem “How Not To Need Resurrection”:
Children like to play at death—
they hold their breath,
and cross their arms and shut their eyes
until they forget to be dead; then rise
from their nest of pillows and play instead
at being lost or married,
as if their state was mutable, as if, like water
they could flow or freeze or climb without a ladder
into the heavens then drop back down—
they are the first resurrectionists, they alone
understand the trick is not to try,
that once you believe in death, you must surely die
Here death becomes, quite literally, child’s play, a momentary state no more permanent than ice to be melted or water to be evaporated. Life, death, and resurrection are conceptualized as passing states to be succeeded in endless alteration by one another.
Metamorphoses also characterize Gould’s concept of self and identity. At once playful and fiercely intelligent, Gould’s series of “self-portraits” reveals the self as a strikingly mutable construct in-the-making. Each one sheds light on a distinct aspect of herself as a woman and poet. Her identity is highly variable as her self-portraits constantly shift their emphases, drawing images and concepts from art, mythology, history, and more. In “Self-Portrait as a Series of Preparatory Studies for a Nude by Matisse” Gould’s innermost self is opaque and unreadable as “the artist scrapes my flesh onto his brush but cannot touch what lies beneath, whatever he thinks—nor can you my dear, even as you read me.” This fierce independence—or stubborn insularity, depending on your perspective—recurs in one of my favorite poems from this collection, the pithy “Self-Portrait as a Message from Rapunzel to the Princes Trying to Rescue Her”:
Build me a city, or burn it,
I do not care.
If you don’t stop trying to save me,
I will cut my hair.
Contrasting with that rugged self-reliance are “Self-Portrait as the Time Distance Between Us,” a love poem in which identity is relational, and “Self-Portrait as the Maiden of Athens,” a revisionary postlude to the classical myth of Theseus in which the maiden, seduced by the Minotaur, surrenders herself to the beast she is sent to kill. A similar sense of vulnerability is revealed in “Self-Portrait as an Ampoule of Martyr’s Blood Buried with Them in Their Tomb”:
I was sealed in flame.
A red crown burning bright
around my head. I was anointed.
Promised that I would live again.
In darkness, I waited. Like a turnip
consigned to a cellar to endure the winter.
Inside me, the blood hardened.
A strange form of calcification.
Some say to live at all is a form of martyrdom.
Any heart is an ampoule of blood
entombed inside a human body,
A vial, a closed coffin made of glass.
To open us, you must snap our necks.
Whether vulnerable or defiant, Gould’s self-portraits share a common thread: an uncanny ability to evoke a constantly metamorphosing self through the most unexpected yet fitting images and concepts.
As central as the theme of metamorphosis (as it pertains to life, death, and the self) is to Gould’s Resurrection Party, however, the above discussion only really scratches the surface of the riches her anthology offers. Like any party, different guests gravitate towards different aspects and the soiree ends up being a distinct experience for each one. Whether you are drawn to the concepts I’ve focused on or to different ones—naturalistic revisions of classical and biblical narratives, lush meditations on abstractions such as “Absolution” and “Chastity,” or beautiful riddles that gleam with allusions and innuendo—there is sure to be something to captivate your heart and mind at this lively gathering of images, ideas, and stories both ancient and modern, sacred and profane.
Michalle Gould has been working on the poems in this collection for almost 15 years. In that time, her poems and short stories have been published in Slate, New England Review, American Library Review, and other journals. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a librarian, and is in the process of researching and writing a novel set in the North of England in the 1930’s.