One week. flying into Colorado Springs the 747  slid thru rainbows at least eleven times and then when I landed, there were rainbows everywhere. That next night in the film The Rainbow, based on D.H. Lawrence's story with the same name, bands of colored light made a wreath around the first and last frames and poetry is like that curve suggests: mystery, magic, beauty, what startles, rivets, what you can't quite reach, intangible, stunning, unexpected. It suggests a search, transforms like colored glass beads on barrettes I started buying obsessively one summer to pull light in, like stained glass, twist what is.

"I can't imagine any other way to be," I wrote in an answer to someone asking why I wrote so much. Years before this I said that in the Eskimo language, the word "to breathe" and "to make a poem" are the same. The two seemed even more linked, even more natural and necessary than when I first wrote that. Poems are like prayers, those SOS’s, breathless, wild, urgent, intense often as longing and you don't know who will hear, taste or be touched by any of it.

In workshops I do exercises to develop the sensual and try to keep my own poems earthy, direct, touchable, full of things you can smell and taste and hear---"people yelling," "bodies crying to be taken," "slammed doors," "slammed glass." yelps and howls and hollerings, as full of raw feeling as the blues.

"Details make the lie more believable" I write on any blackboard in schools as students giggle. Later I tell them about the 26 Californians who were sure because I wrote "Tuesday" and "Santa Cruz" that a poem based partly on a dead poet was each of them. I've roamed thru old houses trying to pull back women dipping candles and shivering, waiting for news of war, from the feel of flax or the smell of damp roses and marble. I've drifted though Paris museums wondering about Claudel, through the many in DC, making up stories from an old photograph of Jews in Wyoming, a whole series from the way a chair is worn, how light looks at a certain angle. I've turned women who are part bird and part man into rivals, imagined the daughter I don't have, lives over long before mine began.

I wanted to be an actress. Writing allows me to put on a lot of masks, be mad girls, madonnas, circus freaks, Vietnam veterans, women in Plymouth braiding hair wreaths, Eskimos stretching caribou, stringing reindeer gut for trampolines, Indians, Holocaust sufferers and survivors, Japanese women on the day Hiroshima was hit, bitches, sluts, nuns, strippers, doctors, carnival barkers-- so many people in history including Jimmy Brown, Edna St Vincent Millay, Mother Theresa, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Barbie  and in one rather sensational book, Jesus. Through poetry, I've entered the world of horse racing with Ruffian, (The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian) Barbaro (Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness)and Lost in the Fog. I've drifted though Hurricane Katrina ( my new book about that is Katrina) and the Great Indian Ocean’s Tsunami. In a new book, due any day, is All The Poets (Mostly) Who Have Touched Me, Living and Dead.All True, especially the lies, I spend Halloween with John Keats, ride horseback with Sylvia Plath and spend a little time with Thoreau. In poems, I can have lovers I never had, only have on the sheet of paper.

I have been able to enter into the bizarre and mysterious, trap and hold on to what has dissolved or might only haunt.  I can be that "snow lady" or "hot woman in fox or leather," be a "woman who isn't sure where she's going but won't stop until she gets there."

I seem to do whatever I do to an extreme: I rarely dabble. When I started taking ballet, I got up to 13 classes a week. Now I'm as obsessive about ballroom. There's little in my house (except some paintings) that isn't connected to writing: boxes of carbons, handwritten notebooks, diaries whose spiral spines tangle and clot. There are boxes and boxes of magazines, boxes for archives, newspaper clips, posters, photograph, workshop exercises packed up ready for new archives to live in. There are always piles of lines written in rage, in loss, in joy, in longing, old torn photographs, fragments of letters I couldn't send, lips of loss, finger prints of terror.

Sometimes I wonder how people who don't write or paint or sculpt or dance or compose music deal with what seems intolerably difficult, terrible or wonderful. I'm addicted to writing, even with its frustrations. Poetry makes one so much aware of, increases, sensual appreciation, helps on discover the magical in the ordinary, gives on power, a way to shape, transform, rediscover, catch and hold, like with dance, a way to feel alive, connected.

Lyn Lifshin

Last Updated:

October 4, 2010