South Dakota Poets You Should Know: Darla Biel

Hello!  I’m Barbara Duffey, a board member of the SDSPS and an assistant professor of English at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD.  For the next three months, I’ll be writing weekly blog posts, each highlighting a contemporary South Dakota poet whose work merits your attention.  My criteria for the current project is poets whose work I like who have poems I like readily available on the Internet, so if you don’t see a poet here you think I should include, let me know in the comments and please post a link to her/his work!

We’re going to proceed in alphabetical order by last name.

First up is Darla Biel, who teaches English at SDSU.

A good introduction to Brookings poet Darla Biel’s understated, canny lyricism is her poem “When My Ex Called in Sick,” from the magazine Rattle:

“When My Ex Called in Sick” by Darla Biel

December 12, 2012

Darla Biel


I almost brought him soup. So strong
was my habit of caring for him,

I was willing to make it
from scratch, the flesh falling

from hen bones, the rings
of celery and translucent onions,

the round carrots floating,
the slim bay leaf slip

so potent I only need one.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012


My favorite part of this poem is the speaker’s simultaneous self-awareness—she knows she shouldn’t cook for him, he’s her “ex,” and yet she knows it’s her gut reaction because “so strong / was [her] habit” of doing exactly that—and unselfconsciousness in the way she gets swept away as she turns rhapsodic about the ingredients in that soup.  I love the lyrical language of the soup’s description, starting even in that first line, the alliteration of “soup,” “so,” and “strong.”  I love the alliteration of “flesh falling,” and the repeated l sound in “flesh” and “falling” sounds lush there and repeats throughout the poem in “celery,” “translucent,” “floating,” “slim,” “leaf,” and “slip.”  That liquid consonant l sets up a good contrast for the t’s in the word “potent” in the last line, so that the line’s sound emphasizes its sense, its assertion of strength.  It’s hard not to read it as a further assertion of the speaker’s strength and continuing ability even in the face of her break-up; she doesn’t need that sick ex.  She’s potent.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you back next Monday for a poem from another South Dakota poet!

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