by William Page
The poems in Lyn Lifshin’s new collection Ballroom are vividly descriptive and astute in psychological insight. There is a raw beauty in this book only found in an authentic portrayal of human life. Generations hence will read this book to see how women felt in the last half of the 20th and the beginning decade of the 21st centuries. In the decades I’ve read Lifshin poems she is invariably interesting. Like dancing, the poems in this book are on the move in a variation of emotions usually with lovers, ex-lovers, or would be lovers. The speaker moves through the narrative with clarity and is utterly convincing in Lifshin’s unique idiom. There’s a breathing humanity in these poems, which future generations can read to feel the grit and grace of feminine life in our era.
The precise imagery of these poems shines and elucidates, as in “What I can’t see is/ most with me: those/dreams of being/ underwater, orange/ feet of geese their/ only sun”
and in “… Skies of/small blackbirds/like tossed coals.” The predominantly terse lines of the poems are expansively suggestive, the mark of strong poetry. The book has the smell of life, the pleasant and the unpleasant. It is about what we have in common, showing a sort of Everywoman, and by implication through the eyes of a passionate woman, Everyman. We have all had the experience of “falling in love with somebody wrong” and undergone “pain and distress/ or joy.” The book suggests that passion is like a fading tattoo. It makes us feel the joy and pain stars might feel if they suddenly became human.
Though there are elements of striking humor, the book is always deeply serious and moving. Using the metaphor of the dance there is an intense bravery in the collection in admission that the human condition provides only transient security in the embrace of a lover or otherwise. We are ever in danger of destruction from the very objects of affection we seek. In addition to the sexual ecstasy apparent in some poems, at times we’re shown the heavy hand of time tapping our shoulders, leading us into the final waltz. The work is gently brutal, “a setting holding a jewel,” with the verve of the dance a principal focus. Once read, you will not forget this magnificent book.