BEFORE IT'S LIGHT--Book Review--Joyce Metzger

BEFORE IT'S LIGHT by Lyn Lifshin
1999: p/b 240 pp ISBN: 1-57423-114-6
Black Sparrow Press
24 Tenth Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
cloth trade 1-57423-115-4 $27.50
signed cloth 1-57423-116-2 $35.

Lyn Lifshin has written more than 100 books and chapbooks of poetry. That must be a record for a woman poetress in the alternative small press poetry world...and world is exactly what I mean, for Lyn Lifshin is known world-wide. Her name? Say Lyn, or Lifshin; is homomymous with the word "poetry". We need hear no other.

Lifshin gives writing, publishing, and poetry workshops. Her name epitomizes sensual and sexual poetry written by women. Lyn is the subject of an award-winning documentary film, "Not Made Of Glass," by Mary Ann Lynch distributed by Women Make Movies, along with a collection of poems by the same name, from Karista Press. Lifshin has won numerous awards, and a multitude of kudos, for her on-going work, and these are well deserved. This poet does not rest upon her laurels!

BEFORE IT'S LIGHT has a unique first section entitled "Blonde to the Bone" which serves as her autobiography:

--A woman goes into the subway,
and for whatever reason
disappears behind rails
and is never heard from again.../ you might
imagine I'm that woman... But listen, I don't live
anywhere near that metro stop/ and who I am is already
camouflaged behind/ velvet and leather

Hear hear! Camouflaged? I remember a very catty remark made years ago by a husband and wife team who said..."She's not what she appears to be." And what is that? A poet? Certainly! A dedicated, hard worker? Without a doubt. A multifaceted, many layered persona? Why not? Wearing tightly, the cloak of imagination? Without one, Lifshin would never have gone this far.... I rest my case.

Lyn writes of life and death, of joy and sorrow; about red velvet g-strings, apricot sighs, mad girls, Marilyn, Lorena, Jesus, Jackie and the President. All are material, nothing (almost) is sacrilege, or sacrosanct. Give her an image, or imagination, about skidrow, a sitz bath, or Sisyphus rolling his heavy stone up the Hades hill, and Lyn will rip our ordinary conceptions into tiny bits, then re-mold them, reform all into a poem which whispers skillfully into recesses of our

brains, to bring un-imagined delights, tasty torments, and the mirey id swamp, hidden from the ego, into the light.

--A stranger in black leather...
I was words written in/ blue chalk under the
dripping lilacs, cheeks/ burning...
men came up, sneered, "are/ you for sale or for real"...
--like skin peeled from a /finger, shriveling,
having nothing to do/ with any hand...
--on the anniversary of her dying, the
candle for her flickering down
stairs, an eerie light like the
arms of someone drowning....
--I think of my mother kicking to Gypsy music,
begging me to dance with her as I hung back...
--Train of Shadows, A Blood Corsage...
There were snakes in the/ tent/ It was hot.
I thought/ the snakes lovely....
--The bodies like driftwood/tangling, naked. Pale
as marble or roots of/ trees suddenly torn
from the earth...the
bottom half of his body/ burning. Bodies stacked
like wood, a cross/ dangling, child frozen
into a breast, his/ legs cut off, wrinkled
little hot dogs

Chilling word pictorials. Images seared into minds. Poetry which cries as it is birthed. This poet has submerged emotions which gush forth as if rich olive oil poured from an earthern amphora, one which never drains completely, and endlessly flows fluidly into the wide river of time. There are unfathomable depths here. Don't make the mistake of reading Lifshin's words lightly. Dive to that inner depth, and what appeared to be simple, childlike, will be revealed slowly, as the muti-layers are peeled away.

--No space like/ a grave in the
air yet, no goat's/ head in trees,
no blond hair/ on barbwire...
--It Goes On...
like dreaming of/ some place after/ you leave it. You
wake up in a daze/ rain all day...
like stained glass...and the hall with
the light always/ burning behind it....

Another winner, and truthfully, we expect nothing less from Lyn Lifshin. This must be a cross to bear, even for this fine Jewish girl. Always on stage. Always in the limelight. Always waiting for the music to play, the words to begin rumbling upwards from the inner depths.