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To See The Queen

In Allison Seay’s collection of poems titled To See The Queen, there are so many different dark, yet beautiful elements to found in her work that really left a strong impression on me. This is not a book that one would read if one was looking for a lift in spirits, however her work has an interesting way of calling to question one’s own identity, and the process through which one develops it.  There are three sections in this collection, and each section focuses on a different perspective of the writer’s life.  The first section, “Liliana,” is very reflective of past experiences and thought processes. There are lots of references to younger memories.

As the title of the section suggests, the first part of the collection focuses on Liliana.  The first poem, “The Figment,” brings to attention the fact that Liliana is not an individual who is still alive, technically speaking, and she may not even be real.  The first line of the poem says, “If I am still enough I see Liliana, a figment.”  She is described in varying forms throughout the collection, such as God, a man, the queen, and even an extension of the writer herself.  Understanding the meaning of Liliana is extremely complex, and that’s what makes the brilliance of Seay’s poetry.  Although who and what Liliana is isn’t clear, the reader easily accepts all forms of her, and is able to relate to them.  She does not represent a specific character, but a collection of concepts: grief, imagination, identity, etc.  Liliana is used to describe different stages of thought that the writer presents.

            One of the other things that Liliana is constantly associated with is death.  There is definitely the element of physical death, as is pointed out in “The Queen,” “but also Liliana. I want to ask her/which is worse: dying/ or being dead. And then I can see her floating away.”  This makes the reader aware of the possibility that Liliana might have been a person at one point, who passed away.  The death of Liliana helps explain the grief that the writer continually deals with, and it helps show the thought process that one goes through in grief.

These poems actually reminded me of Joan Didion’s memoir A Year Of Magical Thinking. In that book, Didion explains the year after her husband died, and the way that her mind worked during that year.  It covered the stages of grief, showing how one goes through denial, anger, regret, self-loathing, and isolated thought.  Memories were revisited with a twinge of pain attached to them, as seen in “The Sisters’ Incident With the Figment At The Bus Stop, 1985”, and “Her Hair, Before It Is Pinned.” These poems focused on life before loss, and how much regret the writer had for not appreciating these moments. The writer constantly wants to change her actions, in hopes of a different outcome, and Didion also explains this phenomena.

Another part of this section focuses on the mind.  As mentioned earlier, it is probable that Liliana is currently a figment of the writers’ imagination.  It is also pointed out, specifically in “Sick Room,” that Liliana could be an extension of the writer herself, a portrayal of part of her identity that is projected onto this other persona.  The poem states, “It is too simple to say the figment is inside me or is myself, /or whichever of my selves, in some thick air.”  This admission shows a couple of things: firstly that there is some truth in saying that Liliana is a part of the writer, secondly that the writer is aware of this, and thirdly that Liliana is not only a part of the writer, but still validly defined by many other things.  However, focusing on the admission of Liliana being a part of the writer’s mind, some of the poems are no longer dealing with reality, but with imagination.  This realization then puts into question all of her previous poems in terms of reality.  Is what she writing about fact, or just another “figment?”

There is a shift in the second section of the collection, titled “Geography of God’s Undoing.”  This is a different, later part of the writer’s life that does not focus around Liliana.  The focus of this section is the relationship that the writer has with a man, how that relationship plays out, and the changes and realizations that the writer has leading up to, during, and following this relationship.  The relationship starts on a positive note. The poems talk about love and no longer being alone. In “Town of Unspeakable Things,” the writer says, “Then there was the time I looked directly into the face/ of the life I thought I was missing. / Of love. I used to think to be not alone meant/ never having to walk through the high wheat.”  This shows hopefulness, however there are hints to the failure of this relationship mentioned early in the section.   In the poem, “My Husband, The Roe,” there is a repetition of the word before. The first stanza says, “before the joy there was the end before the end/the ugliest before the worst before I said no/ before he asked me to marry him” This poem foreshadows a couple of things in the writers life: firstly that there is a sense of joy after this relationship, and secondly that there is an end to it.  The repetition helps put emphasis on the chronology of events, and ties into the theme of life in general and the process through which individuals are shaped.  This poem is similar to the poem “Ultima Thule,” which also uses repetition to show chronology.  

I came to a couple of realizations in this section. The first is that I think it safe to say that, although sometimes mixed with imaginative properties, the writer does talk about specific events that happened in her life. For instance, it is safe to say that there was at least a relationship (if not a marriage) that failed. It is also safe to say that Liliana probably did exist at some point as an actual person.  There is a relationship between this man and Liliana that I was informed of in the poem “Uneven Love” in the first section. It says, “Once did I see the figment as a man. / One man in particular/and the most unusual I have known. / I knew him in a different city.”  The man, who is a figment like Liliana, is the man that is described in the second section.  What makes them similar, if not the same, is that they are now figments of the writers’ imagination.  They are no longer a part of the writers’ life, but they are two pivotal people who impacted her and made her suffer and eventually come define part of her identity involving them.  As she pointed out in the end of the first section, Liliana is more complex than the extension of the writers’ self, and this is why.

This realization made me further look into the writers’ thoughts on self, and her self-development.  Speaking in terms of Erik Erikson’s theory of development, people in a state of crisis are going through what is called moratorium. During moratorium, they reanalyze their thoughts on the self, and research and reevaluate many aspects of their lives. They leave moratorium when they come to a new definition of self that has been reached through their own findings.  The writer goes through moratorium at a young age, when she is faced with the reality of mortality. It is made clear that she is out of this phase and has become self-defined again before she goes into this relationship.  During the relationship she is at a stagnant state because life is simple and happy, however there are hints of unhappiness with the lifestyle.  She recognizes these hints and starts to realize the falsity of her happiness as they worsen.  When the relationship is close to an end, she has to reevaluate again and goes into another stage of moratorium.  This can be seen through metaphor in the poems. Nature is something that is referenced constantly, from animals to seasons.  Nature is associated with the younger phase of life, and a sense of aloneness.  Also, since these poems seem to focus on stages of life, this is also reflected in the reference to seasons. The first section talked about winter, relating it to death and loneliness. This section is spring, and spring is a rebirth of the earth.  However, there are also lots of references to leaves falling in this section, and that is associated with fall.  Even the colors referenced, and the food discussed, show the importance of the seasons.  White is a color often mentioned in the first section, while green is a color often mentioned in the second. As the seasons reflect the natural circle of life, the monumental moments that are described in these poems mimic that circle.

Also, there seems to be a focus in reflected in the poems. The first section talks about nature as a whole often, the second section references a town, and later a house.  This is further supported by the titles of the poems in the third section, “Room of the Queen’s Dreams,” which focus on a specific room and eventually a single bed.  The slow focus onto this bed is explained in the last lines of the last poem “None Such As She,” which say, “Not exactly not if time/ is what we have a world of/ not if the world/ is a bed I have made” By claiming that she has made this bed, she has finally gained control of herself and her happiness.

The self is explored once again in this section, but the writer is no longer in a stage of moratorium.  She is leaving this stage and coming to an informed opinion of herself. Although Liliana is once again the focus of her poems, the writer is no longer painfully attached to her, but slowly separating herself from her. One example of this is in the poem, “Lily Briscoe, Painting.” The poem’s last stanza says, “Lily, paint winter. It is December/and the wind sounds like a woman and the skeleton/ of the oak tree moves like her body dancing.”  This stanza is important because Lilly, or Liliana, is what the writer believed ruined the perfect image of life that she had before.  The figment of Liliana is a support, but it is also a restraint because it doesn’t comprehend the importance and beauty of pain.  The writer realizes that her past experiences shape her, and have made her into a stronger person with a seasoned outlook on life.  She no longer wishes to have not experienced the painful parts that have helped her reach this outlook.

The writer also seems to finally emerge with society in the third section.  They are no longer alone or associating with things that are imagined. There is an obvious association and appreciation for people. This is different from the other two sections because her happiness was based around an individual, and now the individual is herself.  How this emergence happened is made clear in the poem “Room of Resignation” through allusions to a suicide attempt.  This is also the poem where Liliana supposedly “leaves” the writer, and the writer comes to the realization that she can survive without her.

One important part of these poems that I forgot to mention earlier was the importance of silence.  Silence is something that is feared; yet appreciated in the first section, because silence allows the writer to be alone with her thoughts and not be brought back into the painful reality of life.  In the second section, silence becomes specifically associated with aloneness, and the recognition of it is still painful, but less often.  By the third section, silence is no longer negative, as it is no longer painful.  By silencing Liliana, the writer is free from the sadness that came with her from the realization of the “happier” life one could be living.

As I said previously, To See the Queen really moved me. It made me think about the complexity of past, and it reminded me of how pain can be beneficial.  Life isn’t supposed to be this perfect, happy story that doesn’t involve some sort of suffering, because suffering, loss, and grief are invaluable to a person’s development and self-identity. Seay was able to make a person appreciate the realness of their life.

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