The Best Bathroom Poetry Book Ever

By Victor Schwartzman
Target Audience Poetry Editor  

A Girl Goes into the Woods (NYQ Books, www.nyqbooks.org) is the best bathroom poetry book ever.  Buy it and, when ready, take it into the bathroom.  You will be surprised.           
There is nothing new to write about Lyn Lifshin, the “Queen of the Literary Magazines.” She has over one hundred books published--and counting, has edited anthologies and taught.  She is blonde, thin and long into ballet, despite periodic injuries.  When it comes to writing poetry she is beyond active. 
She has been around, well, a long time.  Over many decades she continued to write, get published and maintain her reputation.  That is some trick.  Most writers consider themselves fortunate to get a single book published.
So Lifshin is a rare bird.  But why the bathroom stuff?  Is it an ill-conceived compliment or no compliment at all?  Why is A Girl Goes into the Woods perfect bathroom poetry?  In case you run out of paper? 
Hardly!  [Disclaimer: due to eyesight problems, reading print for this reviewer has difficulties.  Most of his reading is on the internet, where he can blow up the type size.  Over the past few years, your Poetry Editor discovered he did much of his print reading in the washroom.  He began putting books there, experimenting.  In the end, he realized he did some of his finest reading of poetry in the washroom.  This review is the result of his knowledge.]
Her poems feature short lines and no rhymes.  They are quick reads, but although simple at first rapidly grow complex as you think about them.  There is also amazing variety: the poems in this large collection include family history, sexuality, the bombing of Hiroshima, high heeled boots, tragedy, men and women lusting, the Holocaust.
A lot of ground is covered.  Suitable for every possible mood (380 pages.)    
Most poems are not great washroom reads.  They are too long, pretentious, have nothing worth saying or are self-involved.  Yes, okay, it’s important there are plenty of poems out there, something for everyone, and it’s all good.  But you are not everyone.  You do not want to read something in the washroom that is annoying.  You do not want to end up wishing you had never gone into the washroom to begin with.  The poems must be special.   
To continue to define our terms, the poem should be short enough to allow you to read it at least twice.  It must also give you something to think about after you read it (reading only takes a minute or two.)  This last part is the most important—what you do after reading the poem.  If you are in any other place, you go on to something else.  In the washroom, you have the time to read it again.                       
The poem must be direct on the surface but convoluted underneath.  The writing should reach out to the reader and pose previously unconsidered questions.  The whole process should set you up for leaving the washroom relieved yet thoughtful, looking at life around you, at familiar things perhaps, differently. 
You could even have some kind of realization.  Some of those realizations come through reading:

and feels so
hollow inside,
as if all she’s
done is change
her clothes
She wonders a-
bout the women’s
movement, maybe
she frowns it’s
the change and
she hasn’t even
had a baby, had a
period, a
hair that was
not in place. 
perfection that
can be shelved,
one yank and I’d
be bald, naked. 
She flips thru
chapters on neurosis, wonders
If it’s hormones
she lacks.  Where
she’s been, hardly
seems to matter:
the beach, Sun
Valley, Spain. 
It’s all façade,
going thru the
motions.  What
did a wedding
get me she groans
I never was free-
moving, as they
said in 1975
but empty, full
of holes—some-
thing just for
someone else
to collect or abuse

The life of a woman, and objectification, and of men using women, runs through Lifshin’s poetry. 

Baby, you know I get high
on you, come back with me
whispering in her ear. 
it was all she could do to say
no, spring leaves budding,
his hand on her breast,
crocus smell and
everything unfolding. 
he gasping I want, I
would but instead hurrying
back to the windowless room
where she locks the heavy door. 
lemons are rotting on her pillow,
she studies her nipples,
nyloned crotch in the mirror
then hugs her huge body to sleep

What a terrific little tale of yearning.  A “huge” woman.  A man comes onto her.  She denies herself, perhaps for good reason, but perhaps not many men show interest. What do we know about this guy?  Sounds as if he is feeding her a line so he can sleep with her (does “sleep with” someone make sense? don’t you want to be awake?)  A lothario perhaps, but she really wants him or perhaps the attention.  Sometimes a creep has his uses. 
But she is a strong woman who decides to pull herself away, only to “hug her huge body to sleep.”  Not a happy end at all.  The more you think about it, the more harrowing the poem becomes.  It may not be healthy to read it more than three times in one sitting. 
The selected poems in this collection are divided into sections.  “Black Velvet Girl” is “autobiographical,” for example.  “I Don’t Know What Your Eyes Have Done To Me” has poems on “relationships.”  “In The Darkness Of Night” has “war” poems. 
The following Lifshin poem is a perfect example of what this column has been about, and a fitting end, and after which nothing needs to be written:

at the Holocaust Museum:
In black and white
a naked girl,
maybe six,
gripped by the neck
in the hands of a woman
with huge biceps.
A mentally disturbed girl
shortly before her murder. 
Near the dangling girl
is a photo in summer—
trees are fully leafed,
dark smoke pours
out of one building.
Down the hall
a young woman with glasses
takes aim at a man
in front of a pit of bodies:
the pistol points at the neck
so no shattered bone
will fly his way