To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor is a modernization of Dante’s Inferno, and the irony that Dante takes a lawyer with him on his next visit should not be lost on readers. Seth infuses his epic poem with modern tools and vices from bulldozers to politics. Traveling the same path as Dante into the depths of Hell’s nine circles, Seth sees those trapped in between and those who have sinned in a multitude of ways.
With each canto there is a flavor of “famous” sinners, but also references to the poet’s own sins and regrets. Where the epic poem is strongest is where Steinzor references his own troubles, his own lack of faith, his own indecision, and his own failures. “loading racks and shoving them along a/track of stainless steel into a/box of stainless steel — lower the lever,/close the gate — punch the big red/button, wait — shuddering, hissing — raise/the gate, releasing white clouds –/reach in, extract a rack of formerly filthy,/now gleaming and steaming glasses, or shiny,/clunky porcelain, or scratched-up aluminum/knives, forks, and spoons so hot//” (page 18 of Canto II)
Yes, the poem references some events, many the most horrific in nature (i.e. the Holocaust), and yes, this may seem trite and unnecessary, but these are the moments that most of humanity knows either first hand or through study. These historic instances of unmitigated evil correlate to the references Dante makes from his historical knowledge, such as the reign of Julius Caesar and family wars that existed during that time. However, Dante relies heavily on mythology and religious text to craft each of his cantos, though there are references to his own love, Beatrice, within the poem. This is how Steinzor’s and Dante’s poems are similar.
Unlike Dante who uses mythology and Catholicism to make his points, Steinzor relies more heavily on Buddhism. “. . . That flat little pebble’s the/world of your daily awareness. The pond is/everything else.” (page 43, Canto VI) The line break after “is” signifies a Buddhist precept of being in the here and now without thought to the past or the future — to be in the moment. Many parts of this epic poem are enjoyable, but are bogged down in parts by movement through the circles with Dante and similar pungent smells. However, Steinzor’s verses shine beneath the mire with vivid imagery in stunning ways occasionally. “crowd of moving parts that, overlapping,/layer almost to opacity,/the eye drawn in, each figure a mottled window/into unimaginable//dimension, an almost empty pane.” (page 23 of Canto III) or “Then, suddenly, he dived down smack/upon the landfill — a belly-flop! I sat/on his back, and he body-surfed across/the writhing mass. We regained our feet near an/idling ‘dozer.” (page 44 of Canto VI)
To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor modernizes Dante’s Inferno in a way that is personal for the poet and tackles some of histories most evil moments and most controversial politically. Some readers will not enjoy the comments about a former president or other topics touched upon in this epic poem, but the gems in this epic are the more personal aspects of the piece.
***Stay Tuned tomorrow for my Interview with Seth Steinzor.***
About the Author:
Please check out the other stops on the tour by clicking the TLC Book Tours image at the left.
This is my 28th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.
This is my 65th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.