Thursday, March 31, 2011



How Many More of Them are You? by Lisa Lubasch
(Avec Books, Penngrove, CA, 1999)

Vicinities by Lisa Lubasch
(Avec Books, Penngrove, CA, 2001)

Note: Since this review was first written, Lisa Lubasch published two books of original poetry, To Tell the Lamp and Twenty-One After Days, as well as a book of translations of Paul √Čluard’s poetry.

An artist's—especially a female artist's—pursuit of beauty involves an intricate series of negotiations with societal standards, artistic standards, and internal standards. At this particular cultural moment, it seems specific aesthetic and stylistic concerns overshadow the larger pursuit of beauty in poetry and those poets beholden to beauty. The colder idea, perception, more usually underlies the words and situation of the poet as observer. Lisa Lubasch knowledgeably and generously proceeds to write beauty, which is less about perception and more about plenty. In the United States, throughout the past century, Walt Whitman's sweep and cadence has served as a cornucopia, offering sloppy beauty, to Emily Dickinson's admirable, reserved, mannered person and verse “still life” beauty. In her poetry, Lubasch approaches the two different aesthetic standards of American ur-modernism in the beautiful poetry that Whitman and Dickinson—as well as a few others—have come to represent.

Vicinities form an accidental, almost-physical aura, as Lubasch explains in a poem more recent than her book, Vicinities, "Le Cineaste," which is online at HOW2. “The World is a Star./ Beautiful figures concern us." Vicinities and How Many More of Them are You? are similar titles in that both are concerned with surroundings. Vicinities are places which happen to be near some objective or standard, and are named by that goal or god, though not always directly related to it. As a phrase, "How Many More of Them are You?" complicates the "them" of the other which surrounds the personal with the intimate "you" of love and readership. On page 70, one of the Notes in her first book, How Many More of Them are You?, Lubasch combines the ideas of vicinity and transition from other to intimate:
Everything is saddened by anticipation (of it),


By its prodigious form, by its excess.


The word traverses me.

She continues to develop these ideas in her subsequent book, including in this section of the title poem, "Vicinities":
                        When you
became you no longer,
you were no where to be found—

(p. 28)

A series of morphology poems in Vicinities ("(A Morphology of Light)," "(A Morphology of Time)," etc.) continues the morphology poems ("Morphologies," and "A Morphology of Rain" parts 1, 2 and 3) which end How Many More of Them Are You?. Morphology is where nature meets language. These morphologies are very different, book to book. They have changed form. In "A Morphology of Rain, 2" from How Many More of Them Are You?, the beautiful images are built from the etymological relationships forests and meadows have to the printed page's marks and margins:
dark wood behind trees, transilient

                                 imperturbable ground—something
            not sourced, though constantly


(p. 97)

"(A Morphology of Light)" in Vicinities is more explicit about boundaries:
can you define beauty for me?
can you?

(p. 37)

The you as opposed to the other, the vicinity as opposed to the objective, have porous boundaries, boundaries often crossed as a matter of their nature, and of the nature of their names. Towards the end of Vicinities, the morphology poems are replaced with the campy "Mutations," not the study of change, but the result of it. In "(A Morphology of Light)," the beautiful from the colloquial, "glomming on to us in the low / still heat, the low // Etruscan light, —" (p. 37) in the mutations section, "Finally I Decide to Close Myself to the Light," this becomes the dramatic "prostrate oneself before darkness" (p. 71). In the same mutations section, in the poem, "The Harboring of Ends," Lubasch writes, "We are, in this fashion, lost." Fashion is the opposite of the desire or search for beauty.

In both books, there are phrases which recall T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as well as some of his ideas ("Oratorio" begins How Many More of Them are You? with a parenthetical "do I dare?" as well as a comment about signification and sunset; in "Vicinities" a fog precedes the phrase "there will be time"), but other than small details, the ideas are similar because Lubasch, fluent in French, has similar source material to Eliot. Due to this similarity in origin, Lubasch’s poetry has been compared to the results of Jorie Graham's sterner and more explicit use of Eliot. There is some commonality in display and titling in Graham and Lubasch, although the content is voiced completely differently.

The text on the page negotiates the distance between Whitman's long lines and Dickinson's short lines and gaps, between Whitman's enthusiasm and Dickinson's exactitude. Lubasch's more recent work attacks the Eliotic "objective correlative" bugaboo by literally incorporating formulas, as in a new poem, "01/29/02" from combo 10,
lost inside the           lost (sum) of

( ) & (- )

           scaling the (boundary) wall

where aside from using a formula for a particular feeling, Lubasch uses a gap, not a variable. Exact, generous, more comic than coy, Lubasch's gaps and words finally grasp what surrounds us if our objective is beauty and we maintain a restless polynomial quest.

Lubasch creates a contingent beauty which is not beyond the world or transcendent, although it does bear the markings of an individually-forged tradition. Thought and emotion are identified with one another, "Things veer off. And each of us." (Vicinities, "Ground Sways," n.p.) The sound of the words expresses this union, "I am prolixity and passion, paramour and pact. the symbol of an act, whereby the act is ill-imagined, the symbol, inexact." (How Many More of Them are You?, "(Notes)," p. 67). The eye assembles, "plain dust / and a wall of irises." (Vicinities, "Beyond Each Preface," p. 15)


Catherine Daly lives in Los Angeles.

1 comment:

EILEEN said...

David Goldstein reviewed Lisa Lubasch’s TWENTY-ONE AFTER DAYS in GR #9 at