By Suzanne Ondrus
($18.95, (7″ x 10″) paperback, 148 pages with 9 photographs of various seeds)
Winner of the Vernice Quebodeaux “Pathways” Poetry Prize
Passion Seeds is a love story of an American woman and a Burkinabe man that addresses intercultural and interracial love. Richard Harteis notes, “Ondrus contemplates how love ‘seeds bring invisible to visible.’ The poems trace a history of transcontinental desire from Burkina Faso, to Benin, to Russia, to Ohio; they dispel the notion that we live in a post-racial world. Ondrus shows how racism and prejudice are some of our invisible seeds. Love and desire become an invisible power that can transcend the space between America and Burkina Faso.” Poet Joyce Ashuntantang says that this collection, “will continue to seduce readers over and over again, and the only voodoo Ondrus is guilty of, is her relentless use of imagery that plants passionate seeds in our bodies, letting us discover new reasons to love and love again!”
Suzanne reads from her book:
A provocative debut collection that is brave and urgently necessary. It brilliantly brings us into a new world where poetry is neither American nor African, where over and over, the speaker in each poem discovers another world, another America and another Africa, a larger world outside our vision of the world we thought we knew. This is a book that will surprise.
—Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, author of Where the Road Turns
Romantic, restless, inquisitive, and hungry, with a timeless sensuality and soul-bearing tone…it is a document of the human moving in and out of love. …Her poetic fluctuates between a language of self-possession and of dispersion, until “obliteration of self,” takes place, and the dream to be a poet, not of earth, flesh, race or nation, but of the universal air that regards it all, is achieved.
—Larissa Szporluk, author of Traffic with Macbeth
With luscious and corporeal imagery Suzanne Ondrus shows us that there are no people without places. Passion Seeds is about the ways we pass and trespass those places, with and through each other. It is about the way history and race are written into us, and how the violence of the past holds onto us with names like “white” and “black,” even while in love. Passion Seeds is an excellent look at what holds the world together and keeps it apart.
—Matt McBride, author of Cities Lit by the Light Caught in Photographs
These are poems that will continue to seduce readers over and over again, and the only voodoo Ondrus is guilty of, is her relentless use of imagery that plants passionate seeds in our bodies, letting us discover new reasons to love and love again!
—Joyce Ashuntantang, author of A Basket of Flaming Ashes
I was particularly struck by the sensual energy from the passages that exude the sensual and palpable energy captured from the very soil and people of the African setting. Suzanne Ondrus anoints her poetry with the balm of memories of smells and touches that characterize moments of great human emotions. In this she adds to the literary flow of poets such as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor. Suzanne is a writer possessed by thoughts and visions of her experiences along with the lyrical talent to let us share and feel these passions.
—Jean-Yves Solinga, author of Impressions of Reality
You have before you a handful of poetry seeds in Suzanne Ondrus’ debut collection aptly titled Passion Seeds. These poems speak to both what we want to keep invisible, such as shame and racism and speak to what we want visible, desire and love. I recall how in a birthday greeting to William Meredith, Hillary Clinton defined poetry and poets as “our purveyors of insight and culture, our eyes and ears who silence the white noise around us, and express the very heart of what connects us, plagues us, and makes us fully human.” It is this ability a poet has for translating the world for us that is perhaps his greatest value, his greatest gift. Here Ondrus translates an interracial and intercultural love story. Poetry enables us to see the world anew like Gulliver returning from his journey to find his homeland totally the same and totally new. Poetry at its best describes a new human paradigm for how we interact with the world, even how we love. And the method is not rational. It is the work of a shaman who connects seemingly antithetical threads of reality into the cloth of life. The dream world is where ingenuity lies, for both poets and others. Einstein, it is said, discovered his theory of relativity in a dream and despite this highly abstract and counterintuitive formula, it is the “reality” that enables us to create nuclear energy as well as the atom bomb. Ondrus taps into both the dream world and reality so that the invisible becomes visible and audible.
The introductory poem “Invisible Offerings” of Suzanne Ondrus’ Passion Seeds could serve as a metaphor for the poet’s ability to present the reality that stands behind reality:
crack the shelter,
break the seed’s shell,
so promises green,
What are the dreams and future promises she reveals to us? And how does she conjure the seeds to grow?
Passion Seeds is a story of longing and desire, elements essential in erotic work. Ondrus’ mysterious poem “This Circular Space” speaks to how the erotic, like a seed, is present in us. She says to her lover:
there was a fold
The pulse, the inner drums, were silent to the world.
I need your combustion, the fireflies you bring
from Ohio. I will call them into me
and let them glow
for all my nights.
And by the end of the poem, they have
for the red cave.
How right the fireflies image seems for physical desire and the tenderness suggested by the illumination created between two lovers. Desire has moved from a “fold within” to a “red cave” and then blossomed into a flower. Indeed, it is love that changes us, and a good poem also changes us. This brings to mind Shelly’s comment that in reading, “We murder to dissect.” Well, a good poem, like a field of fireflies, can illuminate many associations and is an interactive exercise as unique as the reader.
As per the title of this remarkable work, often the poems take the vegetable world as inspiration. Ondrus contemplates how love “seeds bring invisible to visible.” The plant realm is one place where this love story unfolds. In “Fully Colored Green” the poet is actually overtaken by plant life, “vines intertwine” with her veins and her “joints flowers bloom.” Tendrils fill her cells with oxygen, such that she rises like a balloon to “expand and expand” as love does for us. The plant realm morphs from the outside world into the domestic sphere, wherein “FruitLove” she ponders the enigma of a kiss, who’s giving, who’s taking that sweet pleasure:
Dear, are not both our mouths
on the same piece of fruit, pulling
towards something we cannot see,
And she moves to the financial realm to consider if the two could find their
Another seed that takes root and flourishes in this collection includes Ondrus’ preoccupation with black magic. She is sometimes at the mercy of such magic and other times, a practitioner. In “Expelling Love,” a private ritual frees her from
…that external power—
that black tornado whipping you
’round and ’round,
always bending your spine
back to his voice.
The details of this practice are exotic and inviting. Like pulling petals from a Daisy to know if she is loved, one ritual involves spinning a burnt match “to know your love’s heart.” Another from “The Evil Face,” requires that she check the color of menstrual blood daily:
Redder: listen close. Brown: ask for attraction to freedom.
Know the magic in yourself. Draw on it at the full moon
with arms raised high, silently split your loaves of bread.
Save the heel to etch out undesired results.
Dabbling in Black Magic can be a double-edged sword, however. In “Stages of Paranoia and Sincerity,” she recognizes that her beloved is enslaving her with voodoo love potions but finally accepts their power:
If my boyfriend uses voodoo on my heart, well I know he loves me,
because I require a lot of spells and sacrifices. I am one high maintenance voodoo chick.
How many times after I tell him, “No, I’m not happy. We need some time apart.” does he
throw the chicken bones, peacock feathers and his own hair before the crocodiles? And I
come back, re-instated with love, with desire, waiting for his smile and bird dialogue.
Suffice it to say there are sufficient “real toads” in Ondrus’ “imaginary garden” to qualify as one of Marianne Moore’s “literalist of the imagination.” Many of the poems will raise the hair at the back of a reader’s neck. Others call for quiet contemplation, such as the one about global warming where she declares “It’s hot in here brother, open the window, breathe.” On describing the desire for a child, the earlier inner fold and red cave become the flowering of love, “an inner ache” that pulls to dreams of a future child, “soft, small, helpless and fighting in … [her] arms.”
Through many of the poems, we trace the history of transcontinental desire from Burkina Faso, to Benin, to Russia, to Ohio. Her lover is black and if anyone believes we live in a post-racial world, these poems will dispel that notion. Ondrus shows how racism and prejudice are some of our invisible seeds. Poet Martha Collins asks: “Don’t we have stereotypes that if one is in an interracial relationship then one automatically has no racism, as if it evaporates?” Ondrus’ work bravely examines how it is indeed hard to erase racism from one’s self, a theme rarely addressed in contemporary poetry. In “Black and White Love Play,” the epithets hurled at the interracial couple by the imaginary audience during their lovemaking cannot be silenced; the voyeurs cannot be sent from their room. Still, there is hope. With love “vibrating silently” in her bones, even geography seems to be pushing for resolution to the pilgrim’s quest, whereas the African tectonic plate pushes up the European plate, and Mount Triglav rises higher (a nod to the poet’s Slovenian heritage), slowly but surely these two organic worlds merge. Her “Valentine’s Day Card 2007” attests that:
Today I am your swan,
my thighs, white wings,
cradle and enfold your molasses
torso that drips thick over me,
making sugar in my marrow.
As the poet urges following one’s heart, even if it means transcending racism, she also speaks to a world where one is free to travel anywhere. In a short poem entitled “Air,” she expresses her longing to go where the wind goes, as
with no passports
and with no boundaries
though she does not know where that may be. One recalls the divine loneliness other pilgrims have described in another context, where the invisible becomes sustenance.
Love and desire become an invisible power that can transcend the space between America and Burkina Faso. In “Missing You in Herb Garden” she wants:
to exhale over continents
and heave the Atlantic’s waves
In this respect perhaps, like all really fine poets, Suzanne Ondrus speaks for us all.
West Palm Beach, March 2014