Review of Lyn Lifshin from Lucid Moon
Cold Comfort: Selected Poems 1970-1996 and Before It's Light: New Poems, poetry books by Lyn Lifshin. Paperbacks, 1998, 280 pages, $14 and 1999, 240 pages, $16 from Black Sparrow Press, 24 Tenth Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401.
Lyn Lifshin is the most prolific poet in America today, along with Errol Miller and the ghost of Charles Bukowski. She has written over 100 books of poetry, and I came into reading these two collections wondering whether all 100 books were really good or not.
Lyn writes in a column like Bukowski, but whereas Buk threw in a beautiful, twisted turn of phrase that made the poem stand out, Lyn etches out memories of quiet dignity and small details.
The layout of both books is similar, separated in chapter headings such as Biography, Family, Mothers/Daughters, Other People. There she writes about the wacky parade of celebrities like Lorena Bobbitt, Marilyn Monroe, Jesus, Madonna, etc. These poems in the last chapter of each book are more for shock value and are less like the rest of the book, which are heartfelt and rich in detail and description.
Falling To The Ground, He Traces Stars from Cold Comfort reads: "light is bending into the hills. This day unwinding. How dark moves in now. Close by and uncertain, he watches shadow and light print your body, how your flesh is shining, moon-pale. Fresh herbs and seeds and the bright leaves folding, briars grey in the distance. Stillness. Birdless. The quiet river. And your head on his thigh is lovely, startling. As if to keep him from sleep, the curve of your back draws him in. And your warm hair that smells of flowers pulls him tight against your skin. Later, you twist away, coil from this last sun. Nothing stays but earth chill. Grass in his hand disarms him. Restless and falling to the ground beside you, he traces how far away the stars have grown, and those dark mouths that live in your sleep. O eve, do you dream how your terrible sighs blind him".
Some beautiful lines in there in both collections. Lyn is a one-woman poetry factory and an institution, and while quality, not quantity should be the rule of thumb in judging her prodigious poetry output's merits, the truth is, at the heart of it all lie very good poems. Write on!