Another Woman Who Looks Like Me. Lyn Lifshin. BlackSparrow at David Godine. 2006. 221 pages. ISBN: 1-57423-198-7. Paperback. $18.95.

Review by Eric Greinke published in Presa, Number 4, Fall 2006

Lyn Lifshin pulls the meaning from everyday objects & images. She finds poems everywhere because she is a poetic dynamo. Her prolific output is matched by its quality. She draws me in, because her openness reveals vulnerability on one hand, but a deep feminine strength on the other. She often seems hurt & neurotically obsessive, but this makes her human. I always feel that there's a sweetness in her work, despite its obsessive aspect. I think most of us like her to deal with minute particulars, & reveal herself in the process. Her mystery makes her more intriguing.

The idea that we are not our memories because we are always changing is central to this collection. Memories can scar, but they don't have to completely define us. The images & perceptions are continuous, & we integrate them as we go, always evolving.

Another Woman Who Looks Like Me was submitted to John Martin of Black Sparrow Books in 2001 & scheduled for publication in 2002. Martin planned on releasing a Lifshin collection every other year, beginning with Cold Comfort: Selected Poems 1970-1996 in 1997, & followed up with Before It's Light in 1999. Everyone knows what happened next. In 2002, Martin, one of the most successful small press publishers of all time, sold Black Sparrow for a lot of money. The success of Black Sparrow was 90% due to the loyalty of Charles Bukowski, whose books brought in most of Black Sparrow's income. When Martin sold out, his Bukowski titles went to Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins. David Godine, the Boston publisher, "purchased" the rest of the backlist (which included Lifshin) & vowed to publish those books that had been accepted by Martin prior to the sellout. Four years later, Black Sparrow at Godine has finally released Another Woman Who Looks Like Me, in an abbreviated version from the original. Incredibly, Godine reduced the original manuscript by 40 pages, removing the poems about other people, politics, & paintings. I wonder if Godine fully appreciates that Lyn Lifshin is one of the best poets of her generation. However, four years late & forty pages short, any book by Lyn Lifshin is still a great book.

In fact, numerous Lifshin collections have been composed & published since Another Woman Who Looks Like Me was accepted for publication, including A New Film About A Woman In Love With The Dead (March Street Press, 2002), Another Woman's Story (Butcher Shop Press, 2004), When A
Cat Dies
(THE MOON, 2004), Barbie Poems, vols. 1 & 2 (Lummox Press, 2004), She Was Found Treading Water Deep Out In The Ocean (Platonic 3Way Press, 2005), The Daughter I Don't Have (Plan B Press, 2005), The Licorice Daughter: My Year With Ruffian (Texas Review Press, 2006), & most recently, In Mirrors (Presa Press, 2006).

Lifshin somehow manages to be both a poets' poet & a poet of the people at the same time. She makes it look easy, but beneath the surface of her interior monologues there are many lessons about composition & the potential of poetry itself. I learn more about poetry whenever I read a selection of Lifshin's work. It is both personal statement & universal observation, & there is also a cumulative effect in that a reader sees more of the poet, experiences her depth & her perceptiveness, yet, ironically, she remains a mystery. Lyn Lifshin is the real thing, a poet who reinvented poetry for herself outside the academy. To many, she is simply too good to be true. How can she be so remarkably prolific & good at the same time? I believe the answer is that her poetic perception is natural. She never leaves the poetic mode. She is a poet through & through, a rare individual who knows what poetry is, never became a poet because she was born one. She should be studied by those who want to understand the creative process & its basis in the personality of the artist.

Due to the aforementioned editing by the publisher, the book is heavy on the theme of the life & death of the poet's mother. Lifshin was very close to her mother & cared for her through her final illness. For someone of her sensitivity, the process must have been excruciating. Lifshin writes about whatever engages her deeply, until the "subject" has been played out. Many years after her mother's death, she continues to explore the images & feelings surrounding that event.
She carries memory past nostalgia to its essence, where it becomes part of a person. She explores every dark hallway, each lingering image, & pins them on like jewelry, or mounts them like butterflies or family photos.
She says it beautifully in the title poem:

You might think she's
or lost, in a daze, but
first imagine she sees it as
a child too much for her
that she can't bear to
keep or know will grow
up with strangers so
before it can belong to
anybody else, she wraps
the words in lamb's wool
like someone putting a
newborn in thick wool,
leaving it in a dumpster
with a diamond anklet to
let whoever takes it know
how much
it mattered

from Another Woman Who Looks Like Me

Lyn Lifshin has a distinctive, recognizable style & her persona is simultaneously familiar & mysterious. She ranges from low key introspection to open political/ social statement. She embodies the personistic approach of the most progressive of her peers from the baby boom generation. I've heard her called a guilty pleasure but I think that's too neurotic. I don't feel guilty at all. Lifshin doesn't hide her feelings, but, as Frank O'Hara did in an earlier generation, she writes in memory of them.

-Eric Greinke

Last updated: October 7, 2006