92 Rapple Drive

by Lyn Lifshin

Review by Joe La Rosa

William Carlos Williams counseled poets to "let the metaphysical take care of itself." That is easier said than done. Lyn Lifshin's strength and endurance as a poet is largely due to her ability to accomplish this feat.

The poems in 92 Rapple Drive possess a spirit that is ever-present, never detached from the matter at hand. This evocative spirit moves from poem to poem, weaving an elegantly simple web which is no less than the fabric of the poet's life itself. What appears mundane on the surface is deftly transformed by the poet's uncompromising adherence to the 'deep song' in us all.

There is more than mere muse at work in these poems. By that I mean that the voice of the poet is anything but distant, or, thank God, weary. No, Lifshin attacks her charge and sees the task through to its end with feline suddenness and a jazzy insouciance that is most attractive and alluring.

The idiom in these poems resonates with a disembodied lyricism that is both provocative and tender, and represents a subtle departure from the familiar, though never conventional, narrative style readers may have come to expect from opening a new book of poems by Lyn Lifshin. There is an irresistible charm and vitality to the dissonance in the voice of these poems that is reminiscent of Bebop at its best.

She knows instinctively that poetry is not exclusive in any sense of the word. It is a means of connecting with the larger world all around us that we tend to block out of our daily lives, yet her main source of inspiration springs from the details of that obstruction. Poems of love, light and passions unbound for a hot minute or hour, in an untidy world that includes a fair share of madness and irony, are anathema to academia. Lifshin has broken through the barrier between academia and the rest of us, communicating across divisive lines and outflanking the intelligentsia in the process.

Lifshin's words leave visceral traces in the reader's consciousness. At times she reaches the ultimate state Lorca called duende -- a passion that does not seek instant gratification but a relationship with nature that is direct and poignant always.

Her knack is subtle and seductive and never expedient. She says in her poems only what she wants and means to say, and that is no small accomplishment, as anyone who has struggled with the art of poetry can tell you. She's a natural, America's best kept secret, an agile and provocactive presence that can easily go largely unnoticed amidst the chaos of daily life if we do not stop to pay heed, to smell the flowers, so to speak. Not that Lifshin is of the airy-fairy school of verse, not by any stretch of the imagination. She's very down and dirty and, at her most profound, takes no prisoners.

Crises are absorbed into the poems and therein resolved in such a way as to keep the ball rolling. Pain is not an obstacle, nor is sorrow. They are instead like sparkling waters poured out of a self that is whole at the moment of writing, an exquisite vessel that defines in tangible terms the insubstantial source of emotion.

I've had a crush on Lyn Lifshin's poetry for many years. I can think of no other poet in recent times whose work has been more consistently good as Lifshin's, nor, certainly, any whose output has been more prolific. 92 Rapple Drive is a masterpiece in a minor key, another stunning testament from the inexhaustible pen of one of America's premier poets that, to cite another of Dr. Williams' profound observations, memory is, indeed, a kind of accomplishment.

last updated: November 13, 2008