review by Doug Holder

I remember interviewing Lyn Lifshin at a little bistro in the North End of Boston some years ago. Lifshin’s verbal output is as prolific as her poetry, and she is full of insights, and anecdotes from a rich writing life. And what is amazing about Lifshin is that in spite of her enormous productivity, the quality of her work rarely suffers.

In her latest collection: PERSEPHONE, Lifshin uses the mythic character of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, and kept in the underworld until her mother Demeter rescued her. Like Persephone Lifshin ‘s collection takes us from the darkness of despair to the light of love.

If you know me you know that I have softness for food poems. I’ve used food, such as a hotdog, to zero in on a dying uncle, or chicken fat to connect with my long deceased grandmother. Lifshin uses asparagus to evoke the last days of her terminally ill mother:

“ When I see the early green. I’m flung
back to that spring: the news of the
tumor, words: “inoperable,” “palliative”
a gun. Asparagus in stores, even as it
still snowed in Stowe in May, the dark
hanging in. It was almost the only thing
my mother would eat, cooked to
softness, salted, buttered…

“I just love the green,” she said.

And as only Lifshin can do so well, she uses her hair ( which she is generously endowed with) in the poem “ The Photographs with My Hair Up” as a symbol of freedom and constriction:

“I wanted my hair
left long and flow
ing, wild as dark
vines in midnight
water, not pinned
into something
neat and small,
subdued. When
the rabbi said hours
after the photo,
when I still could
have balked, run
free, “enjoy this
day, after this
it will be your
husband, kids,”
I felt the hairpins
turn to knives,
carve warnings
under the pale
lace, diamond

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update


reviewed Friday, December 12, 2008