Loden, Rachel 1948- (Clare Holden, Rachel Nahem)
LODEN, Rachel 1948- (Clare Holden, Rachel Nahem)
PERSONAL: Born June 27, 1948, in Washington, DC; daughter of Howard J. (an actor, radio host, and salesman) and Cynthia (a machinist and secretary; maiden name, Ulrich) Edelson; married Lawrence Ivan Nahem (a musician) April 11, 1970 (divorced May 1, 1973); married Jussi Antero Ketonen (a mathematician) May 14, 1973; children: Skye Miranda.
CAREER: Writer, teacher, manuscript consultant, editor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Hudson Valley Writers' Center Chapbook Competition winner, 1998, for The Last Campaign; Contemporary Poetry Series Competition winner, University of Georgia Press, 1999, "One of the Ten Best Poetry Books of 2000" citation, San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area Book Reviewers Award in Poetry shortlist, both 2000, and Poetry Book Club selection, Academy of American Poets, all for Hotel Imperium; Pushcart Prize, 2001; fellowship in poetry, California Arts Council, 2002.
The Last Campaign (chapbook), Slapering Hol Press (Sleepy Hollow, NY), 1998.
Hotel Imperium (poems), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1999.
My Domain (chapbook), Grove Avenue Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
Affıdavit (chapbook; illustrated by Tad Richards), Pomegranate Press (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
In the Graveyard of Fallen Monuments (chapbook), Wild Honey Press (Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland), 2004.
Some writings appear under the names Clare Holden and Rachel Nahem.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 1995, Scribner (New York, NY), 1995; American Poets Say Goodbye to the 20th Century, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1996; Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women's Poetry, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1996; The Muse Strikes Back: Women Poets Reply to Poetry by Men, Story Line Press, 1997; And What Rough Beast: Poems at the End of the Century, Ashland Poetry Press, 2000; The Best of the Prose Poem, White Pine Press, 2000; American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement, University of Iowa Press, 2001; The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Bedford/St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2001; The Bedford Introduction to Poetry, Bedford/St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2001; The Pushcart Prize XXVI: Best of the Small Presses, Pushcart Press, 2002; In a Field of Words: A Creative Writing Text, Prentice Hall, 2002; Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America, University of Iowa Press, 2002; An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2002; Are You Experienced?: Baby Boom Poets at Midlife, University of Iowa Press, 2003; The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales, Story Line Press, 2003; Poetry Daily: Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website, Sourcebooks, 2004; and California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present, Heyday Books, 2004.
Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Antioch Review, Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, Chelsea, Jacket, New American Writing, Boulevard, ParisReview, The Prose Poem, North American Review, American Letters & Commentary, Epoch, Witness, Edinburgh Review, Salt, The Hat, Exquisite Corpse, Arshile, Electronic Poetry Review, and Sentence.
SIDELIGHTS: Rachel Loden is an award-winning poet who offers up cultural and political icons in unique musical and satirical ways that allow her to comment on contemporary American society. As Chicago Review critic Catherine Daly described the poet's work, "Loden writes complex, literary, and political poetry. It is extraordinarily referential, but the references serve the work and her larger political and poetic points about authorship, authority, and history from the cold war to the present day." Loden's Hotel Imperium, which includes new and reprinted poems from her earlier chapbook, The Last Campaign, "brilliantly deconstructs and reconstitutes the cultural myths of the Nixon-to-Reagan decades," according to Tom Clark in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Commenting on Loden's work in both Hotel Imperium and The Last Campaign, Poetry International's Janet McCann noted that "'political' and 'playful' are two words unlikely to be found together in a poetry review, but both describe [Loden's] incisive poems of social critique." "One of Loden's attractions," wrote Paul Zimmer in the Georgia Review, "is that she can contend with large subjects. She adeptly sweeps up all her lore, references, and reading, bundling them together in her lines as Marianne Moore did so well. Her quick turns and appropriate quoting . . . add great wit to her poems."
"The poems in [Hotel Imperium and The Last Campaign] are varied in form," stated McCann, "and Loden can create flawless rhymed verse as well as experimental free verse." In one of her poems, she rearranges the words from former president Richard Nixon's last will and testament; in another, she addresses British poet Philip Larkin in stanzas that both mimic and mock his own. "Loden requires the reader to know about the world, past and present, culture high and low," wrote Suzanne Cleary in Chelsea, adding that the poet "seems to challenge the reader, I dare you to keep up with me." While "many poetry books are packed with references to pop culture," Cleary went on, "finally it is Loden's feel for language that distinguishes her poems."
Loden examines recent decades with a combination of humor, whimsy, and morbidity that manages to reveal her concerns about American history, culture, and politics. She fills her poems with references to everything from Ronald Reagan's overcoat and Nixon's dog Checkers to Clairol hair products and eighteen-hour support bras. "Loden's poetic forté," noted Clark in Jacket Magazine, "is a clever, subversive conversion of the clichéd figurations of kitsch into the starkly-lit truths of critical history." Melanie Rehak, writing for Salon, put it another way: "Loden makes the fragmentation and senselessness that are the twentieth century's legacy dance with a kind of macabre glee."
While Loden "may be a little too clever, sometimes impenetrably so," remarked Fred Muratori in a Rain Taxi Review of Books assessment of Hotel Imperium, ultimately the referential quality of her poems "emphasize[s] the neural connectedness—the near sensibility—of language processed through a shared, if fragmented and disorienting, cultural iconography." "Loden's poetry is rife with difficult, subversive pleasures," Muratori continued, adding that "it is also very funny, and refreshingly alert." Writing in Boston Review, Joel Brouwer described the book as "whip-smart, hilarious, and moving."
In a North American Review assessment of The Last Campaign, Vince Gotera characterized Loden's poems as "witty, accomplished, confident in technique, with exquisite attention to language and image." And although the poet targets dissembling politicians, the media, insurance companies, and a culture obsessed with beauty over substance, "the danger that cynicism will overtake the indignation that propels Loden is averted by the joy, bafflement and innocence of her poems," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Loden told CA: "I wrote recently in an interview in the Iowa Review that 'I never actually set out to be funny. But I did want to take on the world in its crude, unrefined state, and you can't do that without engendering a certain amount of hilarity. To write about history without humor would be to deny its complexity. And anyway, I hail from a long conga line of tummlers and comedians as well as white-gloved daughters of the American Revolution.'
"It's occurred to me that my literary style borrows a great deal from my father's verbal pyrotechnics, his inexhaustible firecracker-string of jokes and puns and ridiculous accents. Sometimes he will conduct an entire conversation as a person from some imaginary country. It's hard to keep up even now, and he's 87.
"My mother's high intellectual seriousness was also a great gift, despite the schizophrenia that ultimately derailed her. The fact that she came from a family that included two significant American writers (Rebecca Harding Davis and Richard Harding Davis) also gave me a sort of magic cloak to wear, a sense that I could do this, whatever the apparent slimness of my prospects.
"I started writing (and reading) seriously during a tumultuous time for my family, when my divorced mother was ill and in and out of the hospital, and I was living a few months here and a few months there, sometimes in foster homes. My notebooks became a place to escape the chaos of my outer life, to make something useful out of it, and to try on various adolescent attitudes. The page was my fiefdom, something I could control.
"For years I was just practicing, practicing, and this took the form of poem-drafts but also notebooks full of words and phrases that were worth turning over and over, like colored pebbles. I'd buy one of those black and white composition notebooks, divide the pages into two columns, and fill them up with verbal oddities.
"I remember the morning when I realized that something was actually happening on the page, something that surprised me. I'd been writing till dawn and I went outside and the world looked entirely different. There was a deep pleasure component, a sense that I'd pulled something shiny and new out of the ether.
"When I write now, I'm after that pleasure. Writing engages more of my circuitry than anything else, simultaneously lights up more of my brain than any other activity. That must be why I keep going back to it. That and the longing to defeat death in some way.
"I'm often asked to explain the obsession with Richard Nixon. I came from a family that had little reason to be thrilled with him. He was our dark shadow, our eminence grise. So he had always been with me, but he didn't start turning up in my work till the day of his death in 1994. That's when I wrote 'Premillennial Tristesse.' It begins, 'Nixon is slipping / in and out of consciousness . . .' And he was—he was dying, slipping in and out of consciousness, but he was also slipping in and out of my consciousness. I began to realize how strange it would be to end the century without him. As Robert Dole said at Nixon's funeral, 'I believe that the second half of the twentieth century will be known as the 'Age of Nixon.' He made appearances, insistent appearances, in my poems. He did not intend to be forgotten at the dawn of the new millennium. He continued to campaign from beyond the grave. And the odd thing is that he's become a kind of muse, even (since I've mastered him) a figure of affection.
"In fact, my only possible complaint about the reviews of my book is that (as I wrote in Iowa Review) 'sometimes people who loathed Nixon think that the poems 'about' him are really (and solely) about him, about that one weird guy. And that I'm standing aloof from him and raining small satiric blows on his hideous person. That's certainly one way to read them, and people seem to enjoy the chance to vent, to cathex on him a bit. Which is all well and good, but it's not really what I'm after. That's why I call one poem 'Bride of Tricky D.' Because I think uglifying and demonizing him lets us off the hook. If we marry him instead, something much more interesting happens.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Letters & Commentary, number 11, 1999, Kathleen Crown, review of Hotel Imperium, p. 137.
Boston Review, October-November, 2000, Joel Brouwer, review of Hotel Imperium.
Chelsea, 70/71, 2001, Suzanne Cleary, review of HotelImperium, pp. 306-315.
Chicago Review, summer, 2001, Catherine Daly, review of Hotel Imperium, p. 76.
Georgia Review, summer, 2000, Paul Zimmer, "'Bursting under the Window, Inconsolable,': Five Recent Chapbooks," pp. 388-396.
Harvard Review, spring, 2001, Catherine Toal, review of Hotel Imperium, p. 160.
Iowa Review, winter, 2003-04, Ryan G. Van Cleave, "Welcome to the Twenty-first Century: An Email Interview with Rachel Loden," p. 127.
North American Review, September-October, 2000, Vince Gotera, "The Poetry Politic," p. 45.
Poetry International, number 4, 2001, Janet McCann, review of Hotel Imperium and The Last Campaign, pp. 161-162.
Poetry Project Newsletter, June-July, 2000, Dawn Michelle Baude, review of Hotel Imperium, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1999, review of HotelImperium, p. 73.
Rain Taxi Review of Books, spring, 2000, Fred Muratori, review of Hotel Imperium, p 31.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, May 14, 2000, Tom Clark, "Palo Alto Poet Tweaks Our Cultural Icons;" November 19, 2000, Tom Clark, "Poetry," p. 24.
Tinfish, number 11, 2001, John Rieder, review of HotelImperium, pp. 61-64.
Jacket Magazine,http://www.jacketmagazine.com/ (July, 2000), Tom Clark, review of Hotel Imperium; (July, 2001), Marjorie Perloff, "But Isn't the Same at Least the Same?"; (February, 2003), Kent Johnson, interview with Rachel Loden.
Lime Tree,http://limetree.ksilem.com/ (March 20, 2004), K. Silem Mohammad, "Essential Books."
Poetics.ca,http://www.poetics.ca/ (November 12, 2002), Colin Morton, "Two Sides of American Poetry at the Millennium."
Rachel Loden Home Page,http://www.thepomegranate.com/loden/ (January 5, 2004).
Readme,http://home.jps.net/~nada/ (winter, 2000), Joseph Safdie, review of Hotel Imperium.
Salon,http://dir.salon.com/ (February 11, 2000), Melanie Rehak, "New World Orders."
Valparaiso Poetry Review,http://www.valpo.edu/english/vpr/ (spring-summer, 2000), H. Palmer Hall, "Mirror Images."
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