Grief's Clear Light: Lyn Lifshin's A New Film about a Woman in Love with the Dead
A New Film about a Woman in Love with the Dead.|
March Street Press, 2002.
109 pages, $20 (paperback).
It is good to know that there are poets like Lyn Lifshin who can develop ambitious, careful projects like A New Film about a Woman in Love with the Dead without the support of a major publisher or university sinecure. A Patterson Prize winner for her 1999-2000 volume Before It's Light, Lifshin has worked relentlessly within small press circles and makes claims to over 100 volumes of poetry.
The 109 linked poems of this collection move the reader through a period of grief associated with the death of an ex-lover. With a spoken diction undisturbed by the regular line breaks, each poem drops like rain in a clean sheet. Because of this, the piece's "turn" is not effected by a lyric thrust, but by the slow accumulation of repeated strophes. By the fortieth poem you realize you've traveled through time.
I am not familiar with Lifshin's work, but I'd guess the form was specific to this piece, and that tells me she's a smart artist who knows that form and sense are linked. Here, the poems are arranged like film frames, and their succession bodies out the pace of grief, capturing both the sharp clarity of feeling, and grief's hold, its lack of movement. And she ends the piece well; towards the end, her focus drifts, capturing the way the mind, after long weeks, begins to shift again to new reference.
The material, of course, must have seemed almost embarrassingly fertile—the links between a dead love and death, the permissions of grief that make it possible to speak in aching language. But poets get many ideas that are not executed, and it is not so easy to pour out 109 clean, straight "film-stills."
I'd dog-eared two-dozen by the end of the hour.