Saturday, November 29, 2014

Susan Lewis's This Visit

I see many parallels between Susan Lewis’s This Visit and State of the Union, another book by Lewis that I read a few weeks ago. There is plenty of sharp and clever word play and rhyme. I also see a lot of influence coming from the school of Language Poetry and its poets. There is a distinct commentary on language itself, as the first poem in the collection, “My Life In Dogs”, has “language languishing.” For this and other reasons, This Visit reminded me of Charles Alexander’s book Pushing Water, which I reviewed in March of last year.

Many of the same themes are addressed in This Visit, as were addressed in State of the Union: there seemed to be a slight political bent, as well as a focus on the human condition, and even God and morality, in lines like,

They too must age, decay
& slowly quieten.

& can only live
more or less. & choose,
more or less.

& search furtively or not
for the nonexistent exit.

Later, “the grenade of your despair” is paired with doll heads littered on the floor, which is certainly an image that sticks with the reader.  

The main difference I saw between This Visit and State of the Union is the way the poems were arranged on the page. In This Visit, the poems are allowed more space for the poems themselves and their readers to breathe on the page. White space is a powerful tool that Lewis utilizes well here.

As usual, I was left with a few important, worthwhile questions that I will take with me, including, but not limited to: If there is a narrative thread here, what is it? What in the text anchors its readers? Who exists in the address circuit? What do the italics signify? And the parenthesis? The speaker here seems distant, almost muted sometimes in what she wants to say. Who is doing the muting? What is being left out, and how does that play into what we are able to decipher? What about the love story that exists here is being left untold? For this and other reasons I saw some similarities in voice and style with Dickinson, which is quite the achievement.

In the poem “My Life in Microbes” the speaker says, “In which the heart of/the endeavor/is the/endeavor” which I think is an apt description of the book itself. Congratulations to Susan Lewis for this thought provoking book. You can find out more about her here.

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