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Susan McCaslin. Demeter Goes Skydiving.

Susan McCaslin. Demeter Goes Skydiving. Edmonton. University of Alberta Press. 2011. ISBN 9780888645517

Demeter Goes Skydiving consists of three sections, and the Demeter myth poems, set in a contemporary first-world culture, take up the first half of the book. The critique of contemporary consumerism threads throughout the Demeter/Persephone poems, as is the criticism of war, particularly the Iraq War, which Demeter visits during her nine-day search for Persephone. The war is described in such a manner that it makes the Underworld seem mild in comparison. In another poem, Demeter "Tries to Adopt Britney Spears," whose life in celebrity culture parallels that of Persephone's: "Too soon modified, mortified / commoditized / too soon married / lean, a fatty chomped by the machine."

In addition to narrative and lyric poems, there are monologues by Demeter, Hades, Persephone, Iambe, and a dialogue between Demeter and Hecate. Hades's monologue allows a glimpse into the bad guy of the myth, as does "Demeter Works on Non-Attachment," in which Pluto/Hades is described as "a boy who loved to gather leaves, / and gaze into mud puddles." In this retelling, gods are as much a product of their culture as contemporary mortals seem to be; indeed, Demeter Goes Skydiving is almost an allegory: Demeter's nine-day trip finds her holed up in a hotel watching Gary Cooper movies and Extreme Makeover; Catherine of Siena is rendered as the first anorexic; Hell is a strip mall; Hades, its "Overlord, / politico, ... sprawled in his corporate death," runs a gym where shades torture themselves on endless treadmills, oblivious to the suffering of "bombed-on shrieking children," and rumors of Persephone's post-abduction sexual appetite for Hades are used to justify his crime in the public eye.

The second section of the book, entitled "Old Loves," would likely have been an excellent collection if published on its own. However, the poems in this section are of such a different style and quieter tone, they are overwhelmed by the Demeter poems. The third section, a crown of sonnets entitled "Corona Anniversaire," is masterfully composed and beautifully wrought; however, they might also have benefitted from placement in another collection because the Demeter poems are so compelling. Perhaps one should read the collection from back to front, starting with the crown of sonnets, moving on to the lyrics, and finishing up with Demeter and the gang. But however one reads Demeter Goes Skydiving, the Demeter poems will leave you wanting more.

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish

Oklahoma City University
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Author:Mish, Jeanetta Calhoun
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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