Reviews

'The government of love'

A review of Elizabeth Willis's 'Alive'

Image of Elizabeth Willis (left) courtesy of Kelly Writers House.

The speaker of “Survey,” a long poem among the “New and Uncollected” of Elizabeth Willis’s Alive: New and Selected Poems, illustrates public interest and personal exposure combining to make an American lyric. 

The speaker of “Survey,” a long poem among the “New and Uncollected” of Elizabeth Willis’s Alive: New and Selected Poems, illustrates public interest and personal exposure combining to make an American lyric. As the title suggests, the poem responds to an easily imagined questionnaire ranking priorities and concerns with a list of wishes and worries, two of perhaps the most private and maligned categories of our Just Do It culture in which both wishes and worries are judged as failures of will.

The joy at the heart of us

Elizabeth Willis's 'Alive: New and Selected Poems'

First of all, what would it mean to be fully alive? One thinks of the archetypal unicorn, the ever-present poet that can’t quite get enough of something, but what? In Lacanian terms, we might think joy, jouissance. In terms of Romantic literature, we might think love, or romance, or the spark of God that is, indeed, the last romantic that our world could know, now that we are moderns.

First of all, what would it mean to be fully alive? One thinks of the archetypal unicorn, the ever-present poet that can’t quite get enough of something, but what? In Lacanian terms, we might think joy, jouissance. In terms of Romantic literature, we might think love, or romance, or the spark of God that is, indeed, the last romantic that our world could know, now that we are moderns.

All volta

A review of Lyn Hejinian's 'The Unfollowing'

Image of Lyn Hejinian (right) by Gloria Graham, 2005.

The poems in Lyn Hejinian’s The Unfollowing are to the sonnet what the prose poem is to verse. They are fourteen lines long and, more importantly, poems of love and loss. In the press materials, Omnidawn publisher Rusty Morrison tells us that the poems are “a sequence of elegies” although “they are not sonnets but antisonnets.” 

Part 1: To close the streaming eye 

All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Marked by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim — such the dubious ray
That wavering reason lends, in life’s long darkling way. 
Charlotte Smith, “Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening”

Potential loss

What is the relationship between serial and elegy? What poetic form might accommodate the dailiness of grief without erasing or domesticating what has been lost? How might a poem lament the dead and honor the differences made by loss without foreclosing the possibilities that loss has made available? What potential does loss hold? Might poetry hold space for such potential?

Possibility is neither forever nor instant.
                                            It is not easy to sustain belief in its efficacy.[1— Audre Lorde

'It has a place for me as living'

On Susan Landers's 'Franklinstein'

Photo courtesy of Natasha Dwyer.

Franklinstein began as a mash-up of two classic US texts: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans. It was an inspired move, to juxtapose the plainspoken, aphoristic words of a founding father with the modernist novel written by a Jewish, lesbian expat who sought to dismantle and redefine concepts of “the new world” and literature itself.