If Paris were plunged into pitch,
a Roman shade rendering solemn
the whole of the Seine, quai and ditch,
Palais Royal’s each oddly-cut column;
if—shut in a chic Chanel stitch—
the city were fashioned with screens,
in its handiwork, nary a niche,
then Paris might be New Orleans.
But first things first. The beginning section of this book is very much like a leisurely walk through the French capital, moving from St. Sulpice to L’Allée Royale, to Sacré Coeur and Rue du Vieux Colombier, to the Panthéon, to Notre Dame and Hôtel des Invalides, to the Cimitière de Montmartre, with brief side trips on the Metro and along the Seine. In connection with this, let me draw the reader’s attention to Reeser’s excellent sonnet “To a Woman on the Metro,” a powerful and disquieting piece that puts Ezra Pound’s stupid little squib about the Metro to shame. But that’s the core difference between modernism and traditional poetry—modernism chokes on its own strangulated imagery; real poetry actually says something intelligent.
Churches, catacombs, cemeteries—a lot of this book has a sacral solemnity about it, likely the result of Reeser’s strong religious faith combining with the ecclesiastical and memorial architecture of Paris to make Fleur-de-Lis a deeply meditative work. But another crucial factor is the Charlie Hebdo murders, carried out in the city by Moslem terrorists in January of 2015. Reeser’s book is dedicated to the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the lead poem in the section Fugue and Funerary is a tribute to its murdered journalists. One might say that this atrocity in the very heart of Paris deepens the pall of gloom that hangs over Fleur-de-Lis. But apart from this one instance of public testimony, Reeser’s book is solidly private in its reactions and concerns. There are poems about the poet’s sons (“One Brother Suffers”), her religious belief (“Into the Cross”), and her love of