Alta Suzanne Juhasz - Essay

Suzanne Juhasz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is only recently that [Alta] has been represented in any national anthologies, a recognition that has come from women. An important fact, because the most common negative response to her poetry is: "It isn't poetry." Who says? People who don't like what she writes—a vicious kind of circle. Don't like it (we are now at an emotional, not an intellectual or theoretical, level) because it is shocking. Why shocking? In its anger (and joy) it does not lie. It isn't true life, it is poetry, but the electric connection between the two kinds of truth is not severed. For some, the poems are too honest….

Honest, these poems lack "decorum," that heretofore primary criterion for women's language. They shock when they speak to men…. They shock more profoundly when they speak to women—not through men, because of men, about men, or for men—but to women directly….

They shock not only because they overturn stereotypical male/female relationships, but because they break down all protective barriers of politeness that isolate one human from another…. (p. 181)

Alta writes of the moments we try to ignore or forget about ourselves and others …, because she is fighting a revolution that is not only for women but for love itself…. Alta is shocking for another reason: she is funny…. There is always a gasp of pain in our laughter for these poems, as there is in Alta's wry wit when she writes them. It is allowable for people in pain to laugh at themselves (it eases the hurt and keeps them from resisting), but they are not supposed to use their humor as a way of fighting back. Alta's wit threatens, because it helps bring pain into full consciousness, which is the first step. (pp. 182-83)

It is the distillation of experience that her words achieve that accounts for [the purity of her lyrics]; it is their engagement with experience at a level of direct feeling that accounts for the terseness…. The compression in [her] poems results in an accompanying expansion, which however takes place in the mind of the reader/listener. I am talking about the impact from these poems, an afterimage or...

(The entire section is 888 words.)