Susana H. Case’s The Damage Done is a unique poetry volume and one of the most hybrid pieces of writing I’ve come across in recent memory. The author leads the reader through poems (traditional, experimental and epistolatory); a fictional biography of Janey, the protagonist; political investigation; cultural essay; and memoir never losing the thematic threads of the work: how government agencies stalk their prey ultimately leading to their deaths. The book is original, timely, and maintains an edge that will draw readers in and keep them reading.
The Damage Done is published by Broadstone Books (BroadstoneBooks.com) 1922. The text design is by Larry W. Moore and the evocative cover design is by the author and Stephanie Potter. I’ll quote directly from the book to give Lightwood readers the overview.
“This book-length poetic narrative follows a fashion model named Janey and the impact on her of covert, illegal projects of the FBI— in particular, the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which began with J. Edgar Hoover in 1956 and continues, unofficially, many believe, to the present. These clandestine operations surveilled, infiltrated—and attempted to destroy the reputations of— American political organizations and movements such as the Black Panther Party, anti-Vietnam War mobilizations, civil rights associations, and feminist groups.
Tactics used by COINTELPRO include psychological interference, forged papers, assassination, illegal searches, and snitch-jacketing, sometimes in cooperation with local police and sometimes not. The Church Committee in the United States Senate investigated these abuses, and its report gave the public some idea of intelligence misdeeds.
The murder of Janey is invented. But the circumstances surrounding her death are drawn from the history of the FBI in the 1960s and 1970s.”
The book abounds with references from the late 1960s through the 70s, but they are never laundry-listed for a clever affect but become major touchstones with the ongoing story of Janey’s ultimate demise. COINTELPRO, of course, comes to the forefront, but also mentioned are The Black Panthers, The New York Racial Matters squad, and The FBI. Cultural icons such as Bob Dylan, Edie Sedgwick and Issac Hayes among others interweave into the storytelling. And story-telling this is. On the first reading of the first poems, I had the thought that this book could be written in prose, either as a period 60s novel, very much in vogue, or a true crime non-fiction piece, finding a real Janey to investigate. Then another thought came; Case’s use of the poetic form digs deeper, more quickly than a prose work might have. The book shifts gears from poem to poem, accelerating the story and layering image upon image that creates a dynamic pace that will hold the reader.
Unique, too, is the use of letters, mostly from “Susana” whom we can suspect is the book’s author inserting her thoughts in a series of poem dispatches to Janey and others (Jimi Hendrix!). The poem-letters are connected with a number of flashback poems, which add back story to Janey and her life and times. One letter-poem should be noted here that came as a surprise: a letter from Janey herself with the salutation: “Dear black lace Balenciaga dress”.
We are witness to Janey’s life and times, culturally, politically, sexually, and forensically, examined by Ms. Case as investigator/poet. It was refreshing to read a poetry volume outside the box of the usual interior studies that mark so many of the current poets’ books. One poem near the end brought a smile: “If This Were a Movie.” And indeed, it could be, but only in the hands of a sensitive and imaginative director, who could capture on film the essence of this intriguing, captivating, and dangerous book of poems.
On a final note, Susana H. Case, a prolific author of seven books and six chapbooks is also the co-editor of I Want to be Loved By You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe (Milk and Cake Press) 2022, which is reviewed in this issue of Lightwood. Take a look.
Susana H. Case is the author of eight books of poetry, including Dead Shark on the N Train, Broadstone Books, 2020, which won a Pinnacle Book Award for Best Poetry Book, was a NYC Big Book Award Distinguished Favorite, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. She is also the author of five chapbooks. Her first collection, The Scottish Café, Slapering Hol Press, 2002, was re-released in a dual-language English-Polish version, Kawiarnia Szkocka, Opole University Press, 2010. Her poems have also been translated into Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. With Margo Taft Stever, Case has co-edited the anthology I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe, Milk and Cake Press, 2022. In 2021, she became a co-editor of Slapering Hol Press. http://www.susanahcase.com.