A Book Review by Laura Stamps
ANOTHER WOMAN WHO LOOKS LIKE ME by Lyn Lifshin, 2006, 221 pages, paper, $18.95 (Black Sparrow Press, c/o David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc., P.O. Box 450, Jaffrey, NH 03452, www.blacksparrowbooks.com)
Lyn Lifshin is a small press legend. For more than thirty-five years her poems have graced over a thousand literary journals, magazines, anthologies, and broadsides. She has written more than one hundred books and chapbooks, edited four anthologies, given hundreds of readings, and won numerous awards, including the prestigious JACK KEROUAC AWARD.
This is her first poetry book published by David R. Godine. In the tradition of her two Black Sparrow Press books, this one is also a large collection. The poems are divided into sections and address several themes, including love relationships, family, and nature.
Lifshin is a master at weaving stories with her poems, whether they might be autobiographical, historical, or works of fantasy. The first sections of the book concentrate on family members. Lifshin slowly draws the reader from poem to poem, singing the joys and trials of her childhood in New England, as if beckoning us to step on one stone after another to cross a glistening creek. In SOME WINTERS CHAMPLAIN FROZE we learn bits and pieces about her father: "St. Mary's against / the salmon sky. / Walking over the / bridge was freezing. / I wanted stories of / my father in a cold / hut in Russia without / radios like ours, only / wind and chickens. / I wanted a story of / sleeping in straw / with horses' breath / for a fire, of silver / moon, black pines."
There are many poems about Lifshin's mother, who died in 1990, poems that span her entire life, from her girlhood to her last days. My favorite is SOME AFTERNOONS WHEN NOBODY WAS FIGHTING, a poem that captures the joyous spirit of her mother: "Mother in her pink dress / with black ballerinas / circling its bottom / turned on the Victrola, / tucked her dress up into / pink nylon bloomer pants, / kicked her legs up in the / air and my sister and I / pranced through the living / room, a bracelet around / her. She was our Pied / Piper and we were / the children of Hamlin, / circling her as close as the / dancers on her hem."
There are poems of fantasy where Lifshin shatters into splinters of herself, creating characters that highlight different facets of her personality. A good example might be the title poem ANOTHER WOMAN WHO LOOKS LIKE ME: "gets on Amtrack, leaves / her suitcase on the / platform. Nobody she / leaves behind has a clue. / She isn't a terrorist, / there's no Anthrax or / fertilizer in it, only / a few explosive / words to someone / dead. She could have / just made a fire, / curled near the etched / glass as if nothing / had happened / yet or revised the past. / But instead, she's coiled / what no one is left / to understand in the / lingerie pockets of a / shattered blue suitcase." Or AFTER NOT WRITING MUCH THREE MONTHS: "I need a name like / Estelle or Estralita / for magic, a way to / curl and live in a / lover's hair. Some / one who dissolved / in last night's dream. / Nothing still as a / Vermeer but dazzling, / full of wildness, / a Rousseau. I need a / jump start, words / like fibulae and retina, / a Ferrari of a verb."
The last sections shine with a delightful selection of nature poems, demonstrating, once again, this talented poet's wide range of expression. In APRIL she tells us: "Yes, the loveliest, / a smudge of rouge / lips blotted against / dark boughs. Only / the pear and magnolia / ahead of the cherries' / blush lace, almost / a haze, almost a no / blossom snow any / storm could send / swirling so by the / morning the lake / would have a skin / of rose, the trees / bare with just a fuzz / of green shaking."
Without a doubt, this is one of Lifshin's finest poetry collections. She is a seasoned poet secure in her craft, and it is a pleasure to witness her immense talent maturing in such an exquisite fashion. This book is a must read for Lifshin fans and any woman who enjoys a good story. Highly recommended.
September 7, 2006