Danger and Beauty Essay - Critical Essays

Danger and Beauty

Before her novel DOGEATERS, Hagedorn had published poetry in anthologies such as Kenneth Rexroth-edited FOUR YOUNG WOMEN: POEMS (1973), and two books of her short fiction were issued by an underground press. DANGER AND BEAUTY reprints some of this material; it also includes some of her more recent works. New or old, the writing is strangely haunting literary experimentation. Music consumed Hagedorn during the 1970’s when she formed her band, the West Coast Gangster Choir, and music pulses here in her language. The unconventional melodies may not suit everyone, but words rise boldly off the pages none the less, demanding to be heard.

Music also seems ever-present in the lives of most of Hagedorn’s characters; the persona in “Seeing You Again Makes Me Wanna Wash the Dishes” muses against the background of “martha & the vandellas/ crooning/ come/ and/ get/ these/ memories.” But music is not always such innocent stuff. In her poem “Sorcery,” Hagedorn looks at the power of words to create illusion. She says, “They most likely/ be saying them,/ breathing poems/ so rhythmic/ you can’t help/ but dance./ and once/ you start dancing/ to words/ you might never stop.”

Hagedorn’s second book, PET FOOD & TROPICAL APPARITIONS (1981), is reprinted in its entirety. Here, her voice becomes fierce and hard. In the novella “Pet Food,” the teenage Filipino narrator—George Sand—is writing a musical about her life on the streets of San Francisco and tells of sex, drugs, murder as part of daily existence. This work is representative of DANGER AND BEAUTY, an amalgam of Filipino roots and urban American experiences that never fully blends. In “Carnal,” one of the more recent pieces, Hagedorn returns to San Francisco and says, “I’m home, in spite of myself.” It has been a long journey, and some readers may have a similar experience with this collection. Others, though, may find that the underlying beat of such personal and artistic exploration resonates with them in powerful ways.