Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Lyn Lifshin's newest book: A Girl Goes into the Woods

Art Cover by Eleanor Bennett

Selected Poems
by Lyn Lifshin

400 Pages, 5½ x 8½

Library of Congress
     Control Number:  2013932938
ISBN:  978-1-935520-32-0
Publisher: NYQuarterly
Price: $24.95
Order from:
Amazon.com or
New York Quarterly

In her biggest, most varied, selection of poems,  A Girl Goes into The Woods, Lyn Lifshin's intimate, intense, startling poems range from adolescent experiences any young (or not so young) woman can identify with, to the roller coaster ride of agony to ecstasy relationships.  In her unique and magical way she explores the complicated, mysterious, ambivalent relationship between mothers and daughters, that constantly changing braid of pain and joy, of control and rebellion and then the reverse, as the daughter becomes the mother and the deaths of stages of the relationship continue. The book takes us into the immigrant experience, the ravages of Auschwitz, to Hiroshima, Vietnam, Iraq and September 11 as well as natural disasters like Katrina, the 2005 Indonesia tsunami, the Japanese tsunami  and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. She lets us into the world of mad girls, madonnas, dancers  and shares secrets of poets from Robert Frost, who praised her early poems, to Dylan Thomas and Garcia Lorca. Lifshin gives us moments in Paris, Quebec, the Carribean and Costa Rico and plunges us into the beauty of Southwestern ruins, quiet New England snow scapes, Midwestern roads with a radio playing and special moments with horses and cats, summer lakes and the firefly filled nights in the town she grew up in.


From the first time I laid eyes on a Lifshin poem, I was smitten, and more than three decades later, her poems still make adrenaline surge through my body, still make me want to sing Hallelujah all over the streets, still smack me in the solar plexus and make me gasp for breath, while leaving her indelible hot-poker stamp upon my psyche. They sizzle and sear, get right under our flesh, and inside our bones. Charming, mystical, magical — her whimsical yet wistful tone and sharp, clipped syntax are why her readers are still enamored of her and, no matter how much work of hers we read, we clamor for more. She proves that poets need not have a gimmick — just a genuine voice that sings the body electric. Whether she’s the mad girl, the feminist Barbie, the chubby-adolescent-turned-beauty, the loving daughter, the jilted lover, or the prima ballerina, she is always the poet who taps into something primal; whose images bump and grind in a sensual dance; who sees, and observes, through kaleidoscope eyes. Lifshin emerges as the girl who has gone far into the woods; for sure, Lyn’s woods are as “dark and deep” as Frost’s, and often endowed with Thoreau’s serenity, but the colorful forest fires are all of her own making!

This big, fat, juicy compilation represents the perfect marriage of giddy youth (reckless and invincible) with the reflective wisdom of hindsight — and it is a testament to Lyn’s talents that, old and new, her poems have lost none of their luster along the way. And here’s the amazing thing — just when all the fiery red hair and black velvet raiments have put us in a hypnotic daze worthy of Vogue magazine, she takes a turn for the deeply profound, weaving tapestries of trauma, from Auschwitz, to the Vietnam War, to the ravages of cancer, to men with missing limbs, and pieces of humanity gone. She startles us with jolts of nostalgia, naming names, giving addresses, and taking no prisoners.

While reading the poignant poems about the immigrant experience of her ancestors, you are there on that boat towards Ellis Island; you can literally smell the sea salt and the sweat of fear and the hope of making good in the new land; you are with her as she shares the griefs of tragedy and the joys of everyday living. She is, arguably, our most enduring and compelling contemporary poet, and for all her prodigious output, this latest book is the definitive collection of her extensive and impressive body of work — a must-have-on-your-literary-shelf for longtime Lifshin fans, and a special treat for those young poets who have yet to discover her. And now I just realized what Lyn Lifshin’s “secret ingredient” is. She always, ALWAYS gives us a piece of her golden heart.

Cindy Hochman, Editor-in-Chief of First Literary Review-East,
Associate Editor of Mobius, the Poetry Magazine, and author of "The Carcinogenic Bride"

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