VOL XV, Issue 7, Number 171
Editor: Klaus J. Gerken
Production Editor: Heather Ferguson
European Editor: Mois Benarroch
Contributing Editors: Michael Collings; Jack R. Wesdorp; Oswald Le Winter
Previous Associate Editors: Igal Koshevoy; Evan Light; Pedro Sena
THE MARROW LAND
A forum on Lynn Strongin's
Churchyard Angel by David Greer
Lynn Strongin on the Issue.
Part One: Poems: "Land of Marrow"
This Sweet World
In Bourbon Light
In the City, "Despair"
The Dark Embroiderer
Wheeling Home over Mirrors
The Christmas toy-soldier of carnelian wood
Two lights at the end of Surgery tunnel
All the children on board are nubbins
This Marl World
Thin Black Petticoats
(Coda) Painswick & Twillingate
Part Two: Commentary
Hugh Fox "The Marrow Land"
Suchoon Mo "A Children's Prison"
Cassandra Robison "Uncaged of Pain"
Jordan Smith "Connections between Personal History & History of the Modern World'
Bob McNamara "One of the More Striking Religious Poets Today"
Hugh Fox "Lynn Strongin: The World of Classical Poetry"
Suchoon Mo "Lynn Strongin & The Bering Strait of Imagination"
Anonymous review of The Sorrow Psalms: A Book of Twentieth Century Elegy in "American Poet"
Lynn Strongin's forthcoming books.
When Klaus Gerken invited me to compile a forum of poems and criticism on my
work, The Sorrow Psalms: A Book of Twentieth Century Elegy had recently been
published. Our own mother was near the end of her life. An Irish friend who
had had the vivid tongue of that land had just died, a contemporary of
mine-although we came of age on opposite sides of the Atlantic. We had
separate trials "And to think there are people to whom nothing happens."
Marrow is a word that has haunted and followed me like a footprint from the
early thirties to my late sixties. I used it first in New Mexico where, moved
by desert autumn, I wrote "First Aspen" (for a young woman painter, Alexandra.)
Nervous, earthly woman, you are reaching now
To the marrow of my bone.
p. 321 Rising Tides: 20 Century American Women Poets, edited
by Laura Chester and Sharon Barba," Washington Square Press", July 1973)
As the painter was my muse then, so the Irishwoman was to be in another
country later, in Canada. What follows is a selection from "The Marrow Land."
Thanks to Klaus Gerken for offering me a forum on my work, to David Greer for
his photograph "Churchyard Angel," Cassandra Robison for her review of Dovey
& Me, Suchoon Mo for invaluable insights, and to Hugh Fox, ever sharp-eyed.
LAND OF MARROW
Down they went
into the waters for the poor
(--Mary Oliver, "Cormorants" Thirst)
1933 Dublin, Ireland--2007, Victoria B. C.
Copyright Lynn Strongin June 2007
Hugh Fox introductory note to
The Marrow Land
I think it sounds like it's right out of the 19th century. Or
maybe Ezra Poundish. It's like Jane Eyre and Pride and
Prejudice...captures the Anglo-Irish past like nothing else I've
ever read. It's the past I don't want to EVER see destroyed,
sunrise tea and smoking like a dragon, bright Wedgwood blue
lights, empty streets, Irish cloaks. . ..
This Sweet World
you've left behind
Christ Smart & his cat
Always an Ishmael:
hanging over iron rails
above the Liffey.
Are they transporting Coal or Metal
Bricks or Lumber?
rain in your face
You've left the ancient Mercedes
parked in its wood stall
behind your early century building.
Whoever would have thought you'd go down
like a ton of coal
the week before Christmas?
Enough to light all the coal in China.
of the poor
born in Ireland
near the shipyards.
"Fig & Thistle"
the Pub in town:
I hear things with your ears
wooden metal-reinforced hoops
first weeks of the new year
rolling by the Thames
as I ring up your redheaded granddaughter
thought to be a beauty when born
clearing out your place
her voice sounds like your own.
& drinking gin
one arm lame:
of the great British Trains flashes past
which swept you into the countryside
hung round the necks of all six children
but you returned to London, the Blitz.
It came to God to invent time.
After you lost both breasts to cancer
one arm you swung along, like a baseball bat,
you could be seen
in the streets of Victoria
a gaggle of children in tow
one redheaded girl
and three small boys
fetching them a dark counterpoint Irish theme, ecru lace on
winters at St Michael's School
taking them swimming
escort whose smile launched a thousand ships.
This sweet world
you have rubbed off like rust
carried with you
in bone marrow:
Landscape of blood & iron:
from the beginning
my road to you
has been permanently obscured by snow blowing
like salt white chips
from silver steel hacksaw
in circular directions:
the shores of Ireland
(where your ashes will be scattered)
of stove-pipe elbow-bend
In Bourbon Light
Ulster, Scotch, I make a small corner with my books
imagining the Blitz in London
Lantern hewn of wood and translucent oxhorn
a spiritual Jew, you wore a Jewish star from me
& would only have gone to Germany
to make a pilgrimage:
Snow lying in swatches like winding cloth
on stones, seacliffs.
Rucksack words like train's freight:
stacked, strapped, chainmail, link-knit gray-silver air: the Barrens:
faggots of wood to be burned in the darkest night. In the Train Depot "Wait"
of the City, "Hang On."
In the city, "Despair"
you wait lips
but on the curl of bursting into iron, irony with your strong right hand unlocking
from a fluid-lighter, flame.
winter star ignites overhead
above the splintered dollhouses where we learned to dream
over the big glass Mason jar
covered with waxpaper
pinpricked so that bugs could breathe;
under the knee of our parents' desk
where we created
a world with khaki blanket hung in front of it, a torch inside to flash on print.
I double spread the sheet
The Story of an English Village
your first gift to me when you said, "I cannot return your gifts,"
day you said
"I'm sure your heart is very warm" with those drawn out British vowels so Southern:
that accent stretching way far back from Dublin to London
taking my hands in your one hand
which could move.
Pale tints of English countryside
showing the growth of an English village from Medieval town with pump
to urban congestion.
Township pushing up resembled a tumor: watched
from the same viewpoint
every hundred years.
the houses on the right page survive
while interiors alter, social patterns change.
untouched by event
the advent of modern
apart from Civil War 1642.
A civil war
of the heart broke out
from your side of the street to mine
mornings the weeks in Hell
reminiscent of World War II
from my side of the Atlantic, Lake Champlain.
Neither of us belonged in the country we found ourselves in.
First published in London, Basingstoke
you had associations in Dublin & accusations.
History of a life embroidered with paints in one letter, "L" for "lame" "Love" "Lost"
illuminated Anglo-Saxon texts merged, married
Freesia I send when you die, you loved the smell of them.
When your son was killed by "Angel Dust"
you went to hell & half way back.
Hell wasn't the word.
You had a hole in your body
you filled the house with freesia. Only years before, you'd rolled back the rug to
swing to "When the Boys Come Home Again."
"Shall we keep them monotone?" asks the florist.
"Yes," I say
knowing you abhorred monotone
but for this occasion-
I open to a Tudor town rising from hill
to castle hillock from marrowbone. Barley. Lamb broth on the stove. Albion
A smile which lit one thousand bulbs of sun that glorious child, Fynn left
a cry which was the child's opened mouth scream
Biggles & Noddy are dead. Big Ears is done. We struggle in this lightless world to
live: to forgive.
The Dark Embroiderer
blood on her finger
knows she has come to the first day of Forever.
What hack-up, sweet soul: birds on the limb.
Clouds part to reveal the gash of winter:
gold tea & weak white wine a mirrory incision:
Winter is incisive:
widening: Fast-freeze the frame:
On a medieval hill in Provence from which the embroiderer is
watching all enchantments:
feasts fights festivals going on below; Last October's maple leaves,
first frail thorns of snow:
Time which is our agony bears
they lifted my body, a blown
till I envisioned Saint Jude's: the disastrous illnesses of children: the
tubercular, amputees, the lame.
The dark embroiderer
puts all into her hoop: the Franco-Prussian war, the freeze & rain.
She rewinds silks on spools: Then,
she counts down
Walks determinedly toward the cannon-light on the horizon
Shaft is clean for weapon
the weapon fits in wound:
So wildfox in its den: (Albrecht Durer's) Vermeer's letters within letters
forever a young woman, lover in anguish of yearning, reflected in oval
fame having put in a cameo experience
in those pinpoint towns
out from which flows oblivion white velvet:
then bravely gone down under:
irrevocably recognizing its own.
Wheeling Home Over Mirrors
Catching flowers at the kiosk,
Switching into stained-glass stockings back home
A rice planting day in Japan
The paddies gleam
In rain clean as a whistle. The shoeshine boy blows thru his whistles on a blade of grass.
A tree tall as life itself
Which a dog bangs into rises.
Weather dark as a shoeshine box back home
The boy of weather kneeling.
The Christmas toy-soldier of carnelian wood
(a color you rarely wore)
still hangs on the tree by golden thread
The last message is in the e-mail "It would be lovely to meet for a bowl of Chinese
and the landlady who walked Turkey Head with you every day
weeps uncontrollably over the phone
after a fit of volubility: I saw two souls at the white heat, you two striding:
iron hoops into the Thames slid, spilled down under icy water.
Two lights at the end of Surgery Tunnel
were your grandson's visit & the plush Doulton lambkin from me:
You'd kissed him & hugged him all that afternoon before surgery
Two radiances, revolving like white ink blurred to fur on a blotter
morphed into a train coming toward you
100 m.p.h. Tres Grand Vitesse
you could only communicate by monosyllables written
on a piece of cardboard with your good hand:
you fell like a ton of bricks,
crumbled like a house on fire,
left us, minute-by-minute, second-by-second over four weeks, pile of rubble &
hymns, roses & blood-iron at dawn.
All the children on board are nubbins
Carol's, Theresa's, Sean's:
Edward's when shipped "to the country"
to be out of London.
Faces pressed to streaming
train window panes flowing like fire thru fields
you learned one of the hundred
of rain then, eldest, Catholic-schooled, aged nine going on a hundred.
& train-spotting, shoulder bag flung over right arm, the moving one.
This Marl World
you have left
Waters of the poor dark silver rising,
"We are never wise about ourselves.".
And to think there are people who go thru life
to whom things never happen.
Thin Black Petticoats
I cannot make the funeral.
You dreaded the wheelchair pitching forward in slant rain.
Anglo-Saxon scaffolding. Waters for the poor.
above Yarrows Boat Yard which has laid off many men.
A narrow lot the funeral home
nailed into darkness up a hill
at a cold Junction. The Barrows.
You were a bit of a funeral tourist
the death flea
having bitten your ear when you heard the kids
whispering in the bushes of the Catholic church, hearts racing.
Father O'Malley Sister Pauline, will she fly over from Cardiff to whom you were
speaking over the phone
when lamb broth spilled over the burners, a pot-boiler.
"She kicked it."
"He got it in the Jewels."
Still will the bell shine.
down by Yarrows yard the thin streets of our Victorian town tapering.
Have I not been wandering
Ragged thorns ashen, shine
I'll not be at the funeral. I will be wearing
a thin black petticoat under my coat as Doll would have done.
those thin, rickety rattan tables balanced in the back of the truck
those wicker baskets
pages of your life that I could turn
Read & re-read them
Committing them to memory-the bombed streets of the Blitz, your seven-year
old smile, the milkman delivering over rubble--
Storing them in my black box
for lifelong recitation-as if they were burned like litho plates, in my brain
I shield my eyes to sun
to salt tears that burn my cheek on the way home.
I will code them pages of wicker, of leather, wood & metal computer:
Roped in the van that will carry away the tomes of your life
To the local dump,
Or the Sally Ann depending upon your daughter's arrangement.
Your final e-mails lost unless someone knew the password.
As if my mother had not been married in a brown satin gown,
I imagine happiness as I wheel home
A cloud a bloom of white opens
Rising diaphanous as a girl's first kiss, or coming
The cloud stores rain. Grief
Blossoms as I turn the latch-key.
As if I had not kissed my Forever Family goodbye
Hospital-childhood having changed the home line for me.
As if you had not died: the bird in the cage is singing in the painting:
The bird that brushes my face is not charcoal & soot, ebon brushstrokes--
With dust-brown iron-red feathers
But the bird has a beating heart carrying a glass vial with the miniature house
Your childhood: Its rooms of wood brown & Quaker gray:
As if we were not hauling up anchor
spinning on the water.
Your dark Irish whiskey-voice passions over the sunny day:
The last lightbulb you turned off-a page
As if you had not gone over the hill
Ireland's map, & stone, soot & sea
But simply crossed the road, heart racing, cheeks flushed
After sunlit tea to morning mercy & glory.
Painswick & Twillingate (Gunners)
Are across the seas
Here, England after having won the war.
How would it ribbon?
Barbed wire, flaking, curled against sky.
Rust runnels thru clouds
A faucet had run thru porcelain
Maid of honor heaven the color of gooseberry
Follows the bride of war:
Wainscoting crumbling. Boldface, clouds tiny print elegant as boots.
Windows italicize decay.
The bride has gathered up her cracked taffetas all silver gray
she's gone away to a riper marriage.
Gunners the color of clay
Wait for another war another day.
The Marrow Land:
The Marrow Land is an elegy /eulogy of a journalist who died in Victoria,
B.C. in January of this year. Originally from Dublin (born there in 1933),
Culleton was a friend of Strongin's: the whole poem is one vast lamentation
on Culleton's death. The Irish writer survived the London Blitz and lived in
Canada since until her death very much a twentieth century person and The
Marrow Land is filled with references to twentieth-century happenings; but
under all the twentieth-century noise, Strongin gets back to an essential
human being who carries the past in her everywhere she goes, and makes her
whole life sound so folkloric, so Anglo-Irish: "that accent stretching from
Dublin to London/taking my hands in your one hand/which could move ./ /Pale
tints of English countryside/showing the growth of an English village from
Medieval/to urban congestion." Sometimes you feel you're reading a poetic
version of Jane Eyre's life in modern times: "All my work is a reincarnation
of an old beach-comber.exiled one)/in Irish cloaks, feeling slightly
Quasi-Modoish: even Rembrandt's Smock // I look to rafts roof quillery sky./
God's eye: Love strobing earth & heave. // The whiskey-tined / landscapes on
my desk are fast-fading." She calls Culleton "Anam Cara," Gaelic for "Dear
One," and suddenly you're back in ancient Ireland again, beautifully evoked,
like Pound in his Cantos evoking the landscapes/places of antique Europe. At
the same time there is a Chinese-Korean slant here (again thinking of Pound's
Imagism and Voticism) that sets down image-fragments that force the reader to
create his/her own reality out of them: "Sky is a chestnut bowl / tun oil
finish // hand turned wood/by an artisan who formerly worked in stained glass
// a shard of glass fell/ on the little son's pillow during the Blitz." In
terms of Marie Culleton's life we are confronting the death of a child during
the Blitz, but in terms of poetic performance, the individual/autobiographical
is turned into All-Time/All-History. Strongin is a kind of Pound-Keats
herself, pure evocation turned into stained-glass word-windows that turn the
reader's daily world into a private metaphysical-medieval chapel.
January 2007 by Suchoon Mo
The obituary has a strong undercurrent of Cummings, Pound and Williams. All
are inheritors of Buddhist poetics: rejection of both extreme detachment and
extreme subjectivity. It should be kept in kind that it was Pound who made
Eliot into what the public thinks what Eliot is. (some Haiku people seem to
glorify in some kind of empty tea cup and empty fishing boat) (Suchoon Mo,
on The Marrow Land.
Jim Le Cuyer:
Your poetry waterdances for me, words chosen so appropriately that they make
me smile. I don't always know what you mean, no, but your tone is so right,
such as "Envelope of the world, spilling albino contents, epiphany grain."
What exactly that means, I don't know, but it suggests to me that the world
is a letter opened in such a way that it spills on to the wood of the table
on which it stands, and fills the wood grains with glittering epiphanies,
like ground diamonds alight in the sun. What envelope, why albino, why epiphany
grain? (I suspect you're using transferred epithets again!) Or the grain, I
see, could refer to seeds like wheat or corn, from which might sprout
The clockwork village has a marvelous format and progression. The connotation is
of a noun as adjective "being" or adverb "action". Action in Sanskrit is called
"Karma" which is completely mystified by gurus.
I think this is a master piece! (Suchoon Mo)
Uncaged of Pain... A Review of Lynn Strongin's chapbook Dovey & Me
by Cassandra Robison, published in "Centrifugal Eye," Editor Eve Anthony
Lynn Strongin has been student, assistant, colleague, and peer to some of the
finest voices in modern and contemporary poetry in America during the past
half century. She was protege of a significant group of poets, including
Levertov and Duncan. Her graduate student interest in e.e. cummings is
evident in her bravery with punctuation and phrasing. Yet in Strongin,
perhaps now more than ever before in her work, readers hear a singular voice,
eloquent and powerful, fresh and pure in persona, a voice that creates images
so delicate and sophisticated they are painful to read and difficult to wrap
the mind around. One thinks of Emily Dickinson more than any other poet.
And Strongin is like Dickinson in other ways as well. Strongin belongs to a
secular school. Strongin's poems are those of a woman-child with astonishing
leaps of thought.
In Dovey & Me, Dovey is a woman "born at Liverpool" and
When she becomes incommunicable,
I know how to reach my arms around her
battered & beaten
like wind-polished stone.
(p. 6, "Born")
Together, the speaker and Dovey "boil kelp" because "Roast chicken belongs to /
the castle on the hill" ("Winter & Dovey Struggles Home," p. 7). Dovey loves
books, "her one earthly passion" and "jewels. /A cabochon/of amethyst" ("Her
One Earthly Passion", p. 8) they live like recluses ("an owl-like hermit")
in "this hut by the ocean" somewhere in a land of "_unbeatable rains" where
they "_lie on the beach at night/as in a sweet potato shell / & hear the fog
patch people bump together."
One motif weaving through the poems is that of birds and bird feathers:
Nobody understands us now:
Our tongue Elizabethan. We are known as the old
& the young
The two women speak in their own language, a tone of survival.
Strongin writes of bones throughout this chapbook: "the bones war at the
threat / as the blood does / at the threat of wrong multiplications" (p.
13), broken bones, Dovey's "_bones are uneven" and
I ease her head into the pillow.
She grows calm.
is what I choose to read her & his rich music
fills our bone,
taking flight from fevers, crafting the violence, the
visions, into calm.
("Fever," p. 24)
Elegiac in tone, some poems in this tight-fisted collection echo Biblical
passages, others Dickinsonian technique:
This too will pass, like
the wind over the bled grains of green grass
blowing on the sand:
the fear that she will leave me
a star to burn
in the hut
where we lived together so many decades:
No place to turn.
("And This Too Will Pass," p. 14)
Strongin is always looking for God in her poems,:
They are as black-purple
as currants shining
these last poems.
Something fine & dark must be coming on.
("They are as black-purple," p. 27)
She does not find God; she finds, instead, a resilient inner self that
survives the inevitable loss of "Dovey." The speaker says "I am around twelve
/ I begin writing;" and she continues, "Talent is the bird / even more than
Dovey, has her claws in me" ("Talent," p. 26). talent allows the self to float
over the wards and to "torch" Dovey on the cold sand beach, scattering the
ashes in the sea. It affords her a perspective both unusual and keen; she
sees color everywhere, light and darkness. The suffering combined with talent
allowed Strongin to survive her prison of physical self and move into the
transcendent world of poetry where she finds salvation that is not God, per
se, yet it is transcendence:
the everlasting outlasting love.
("Bonfire," p. 30)
In the end, one imagines Dovey as the child-Strongin's imaginary friend.
Dovey is a second self, an inner angel, that lifts Strongin and becomes her
The sun melts like twisted red glass in winter.
But we have our radio on
to outdistance blackness,
a good old transistor.
("Music," p. 19)
The "radio" connotes her talent from whence she outruns "blackness." It seems
Strongin writes out of that exile of illness and defiance of norm Her color
imagery and her motifs of birds, bones, living outside the "norm," stand as
metaphors of survival. In their perfect subjectivity lies their universal
truth as well. In this collection, the poet writes of how she took refuge in
an adopted land in a body which in the end, could be cast off finally when the
adult woman survived, brilliant with her poetic gifts, here to bear witness.
<>Dovey & Me startles readers who struggle to get their minds around the whole
story yet are swept by its gorgeous and often painful imagery that build from
first to last poem. Although it is the story of two women, at least on the
surface, it speaks of all human fears of loving, losing, and physical illness,
and all those truths about being that haunt us all. One cannot find such
daring in most contemporary poetry. It's an unusual group of poems, a
singular feat, as if Strongin had invented a new form of poetry. Her poems,
like Dickinson's in the 19th century, are existential and probe the essential
issues. It is an amazing collection of poems, and it will have an impact on
the world of American poetry.
This reviewed appeared in New Works Review on-line 2007
Lynn Strongin "The World of Classical Poetry"
by Hugh Fox
Whenever I start reading Lynn Strongin, I am transported out of myself
into what I think of as the Classic Universe of World Poetry. Not just
Whitman, Keats, Coleridge, but Fernando Pessoa, Virgil, Rilke, Rimbaud.
In the last few years I guess I've just gotten too used to the say-it-as-it-is,
almost reportorial work of the Bukowski-Micheline-Winans school:
Worn down depressed
I struggle in the morning
to get out of bed cursed
You go into Strongin's world as the 'real' world vanishes and everything is
converted into elusive, captivating, uplifting images of not a 'dreamscape'
world, but an edge-of-consciousness/sub-consciousness world where our
edge-of-articulation feelings scramble, almost always on the edge of being
seen /felt/ heard:
I have known privacy
like the nests of stone
made them mine
"Remembering my Grandmother" by A.D. Winans. The Other Side of Broadway:
Selected Poems,1965-2000, Presa Press, 2007, p. 66.
by keeping odd hours for boon
smaller place within place
nest inside nest.
Withdrawn in the warmth like the rose
to full open *
("Shrift VIII",) "The Glassblower's Hands" in Shrift, Thorp
Springs Press, 1975, p.12)
Strongin exists in a mind-world made up of primarily of classic art,
literature, music, which she takes into herself and transforms
into her total, internalized psychological landscape:
It is scary the way I am dreaming of flowers
like Van Gogh by the dizzying light of the south....
I tear the book open like a hungry animal his gone.
Lights, colors flow in!
I lay back my head, dream
of olive-greens stretching,
of the painter who put the light
under the roots
into the leaves that autumn morning....
"Van Gogh" from Nightmare of Mouse, Epervier Press,Fort Collins, Colorado,
When I discovered she is a polio survivor (as I was as a child), I
asked her if that wasthe reason for revolving all the poems in her first book,
The Dwarf Cycle, around a dwarf. It seems a logical metaphor, n'est pas?
Feeling "dwarfed' by a wheel-chair:
The dwarf went along. It was a snowy evening.
He felt he had been carrying ten-ton rocks
on his shoulders
all year. (O I'll tow the line.)
As was his wont, he was humming a hymna
halleluiah - and at the same time
for a huge kick in the pants of creation. Ragbag evening.
No he was not looking for gold. Not him.
What was on his mind grating and grinding
like a coffee-grind
or one stone ground against another stone
till - like the first man -
he might strike flame?
Call me CRIPPLE
and I shall crumple, a balloon the air let out
No, worse. I'll explode, like a huge oil drum
And you may catch fire too, namer, in the wild conflagration.
The Dwarf's Nocturne -- Placid Evening," in The Dwarf Cycle, Thorp Springs,
Press, 1972, p.19)
I loved the images / language, "ragbag evening, grinding/like a coffee-grind.
Her answer to my question about dwarfing herself came back as one of the most
remarkable documents I have ever-ever received, about the creation of an
If I woke within the actual world of my poems, where would I waken?
Inverno: it would be winter. I would be like crackingopen a geode: raw
crystals brilliantly teal and silver. The brilliant cold would put its
signature to everything. Brilliant things are in a category all their own:
What the weather? Geography? How would the streets run?
In what country? and what century?
I would be a Medieval pageboy at the
androgynous age of twelve, voice still high as a girl's, limbs strong as a
young male's....the village would be layered with strata of vocation:
artisans, artists, beggars, doctors plus every every trade and profession
It would of course be a world of Seventeenth Century Dutch
The skies would be saturated teal gray-blues. Water would be
ubiquitous in pitchers poured, in ships at sea: in canalsfrozen mercury-silver
It would be like the convex mirror seen in so many Dutch
paintings like The Balanced Scales. A silver-nitrate
light slides over and around things,
defining them, caressing them..
Rembrandt is prophet depicting faces of his Jews of the
Ghetto - who were his Christs.
This world looks back to Hieronymous Bosch with his terrors:
scenes of the Final Judgement which spare none and ahead
to the mercy of Rembrandt of Rotterdam: there is Pieter
Brueghel Elder whose scenes of winter skiing capture the
sky of eternity.....
The Geode would be cracked open, the poem. Its inscape is lit
by the hard light of the mind, but perceptible by the senses'
vulnerable emotion. Vermeer paints in oils a young woman
reading a letter: she gives the letter her full attention, she
covets this moment, perhaps the only thing that is her own.
catchlight of longing in the Girl with the Pearl Earring
takes the breath from the onlooker. So does the Girl Wearing
Turban steed in the nearly severe, almost mathematical, light
redeemed by love....
Rembrandt, Bosch, Vermeer....you want to just turn off the world, don't you,
and keep reading on and on. She sounds like me growing up in the Art Institute
in Chicago, not so much drifting into the world of seventeenth century Dutch
painting, but more into the world of Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh....
Strongin "tells it as it is" she tells it as it was in the classic arts. I've never
encountered anyone more art-engulfed than Strongin.
She is not always Dutch-centric, though, but she always is classic Take a poem
like "Linens" in Ghost-Grayhounds & Ravensounds:
Before company lay in a stock of linen:
polish window panes.
Put shelf-liners in.
Dust mirrors until they're ponds.
Water obeys love's laws, or none.
White & lime.
I've been up since forever before the rooster
rose in his red aplomb.
In my dream a nameless orphaned doctor
narrated requiem in the language of my Russian forebears,
little car sounds.
Winter's day is traversed slowly
wound in fragile ice
every step exhilaration & suffering.
Here are a few berries for you hand.
Now sing in Ukrainian.
It's said that wicked people have no songs.)
(Privately printed, hors de commerce, 2005, p.10)
Russian forebears, fragile ice, singing in Ukrainian. Although she was
born and raised in New York city, she sees herself as basically a New
Englander, wrote her M.A. thesis on E.E.Cummings at Stanford, lived in
New Mexico for eight years and now lives in Victoria, British Columbia....
but it hardly makes a difference where she lives in a surreal world, because
her transformative imagination turns everything into all space / all-time.
The closest she ever comes to the quotidian is in Dovey & Me published
by Solo Press in Carpinteria, California in 2006, but even here her relationship
with Dovey is portrayed like, say, reality in a film like Agnes Varde's
La Vie Est Belle / Life is Beautiful. Pure transformed on stage / film.
Dovey & I fought.
"Changing countries is hell"
"You need great subjects
for great poems"
I felt my lips turns blue
& numb. I wanted to walk the sand.
It wasn't a flying evening.
The sorrow in her
& the guilt she bore
for bringing about the change
reflected in her tone.
As a woman,
she had a face like Colette.
She's look fine in foxfurs, but wouldn't wear such
All organic now,
in black cape & sea shells -
Further & further from the day we met
I love her still
while the Chinese calligrapher names his longings
in the sand. (p.21)
Instead of seeing Strongin's transformative powers as negative, I see them
as a kind of full-blossoming of an idealization-impulse that has been the core
of great art for centuries.
She sees herself as having been influenced only obliquely by the school of
Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan (e-mail, September 6, 2006), but I see lots
of direct influences from both Levertov and Duncan and the whole Black Mountain
Remember that poem by Levertov, O Taste and See?
The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see
the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination's gone,
grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite
savor, chew, swallow, transform
into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being
hungry, and plucking
An intense, concentrated desire to get inside reality and transform it into art.
In one letter to me, Strongin says, "I want to move like a diamond cutter...human
strength is the most powerful tool in the world, like flame cutting diamonds: or
are we the diamonds?" (September 11, 2006).
Are we the diamond cutters or the diamonds themselves, reality-manipulators, or reality
itself being manipulated? Observers of The Observed.
There's the core, isn't it, the interchangeability between us and the reality that
The glassblower's hands
will be blown off in the cold.
like birds to one loved?
I have known privacy
like the nests of stone
made them mine.....
("The Glassblower's Hands", Shrift, Thorp Springs Press,
1975, (Shrift VIII)
I find the little quote preceding the poem itself particularly interesting here:
A man will live a lifetime and never be much alone
except in his pains. Some privacy in luxury. Solitude is
unobtainable at any price. The only true solitude is
inward, where a man can cultivate his crop of secrets.
(George Garrett, Death of the Fox,
Life of Walter Raleigh)
True solitude is inward, where a man can cultivate is crop of secrets.
That's the real core of Strongin's creativity, isn't it, taking the world inside
herself, turning it into her own private art-world and then bringing us inside
I've spent most of my life in the company of poets like A.D. Winans, Harry Smith,
Jorge Luis Borges, Dick Thomas, Lenore Smith, Lynne Savitt, Charles Bukowski,
and scores of others, but no one has fascinated me more than Lynn Strongin and her
transformative powers that take the world "out there" and turn it into painterly
reality to be hung forever on the walls of our memories.
On "World Ward II" featured in England's "Transparent Words" ed Jim Bennett
The poem is the WW II fought by children, as in contrast to ideologues and
politicians. It is a different kind of WW II. So the poem can be used as an
unfamiliar voice challenging poetical orthodoxy. I think the editor is perceptive in
knowing that. To place "WW II" along with "happy new year" would shake the
complacency of many poets.
Suchoon Mo on Sonnets Extase & Extremis
Recasting the poem into a sonnet form brings out a new emotional factor,
although I cannot say what that factor is. I need to do more study and thinking.
Perhaps Daddy was dead, perhaps married.
I become a rope for skipping whacking hot stone.
I become an oblong rock in sun in rain
kissed, kissed by ice pitched for the viola's c string.
Mystic Lake lies out the window, a good patient before surgery.
The bolt of black window my lullaby.
Hormones make us happy
doing it over and over.
Med carts meanwhile at nightfall rattle by, green phosphorescence approaching sparingly
retreating glow & sex. Privacy. But we
are darning needles
in a jar
lightning children we are; lightning bugs.
Your poems are becoming truer as the darkness crystallizes into light.
A Prison for Children
In all your poems, there is a prison for children. A hell. Then, existential
liberation. But liberation is impossible as long as one is tied to self. That
is, "I" has to be liberated from its uniqueness.
Often, the beginning and the end of your poem are the same. It is about
reversibility of the beginning and the end. Past becomes future and future
becomes past. And it is tragic that clock needles are locked into a doomed kiss.
A shoe box filled with old love letters. A HIV positive boy eating jackets. A girl
racing a box car. .....
I am very curious as to how the graduate students may react to the seminar
discussing your poems. Are they bounded by rules they have learned, or are they
capable of letting themselves go? While poets sing a serenade to the sun and the
moon, I am looking down into the deep sky with bottomless depth. While good
souls ascent into the sky, I am doomed to fall into the bottomless depth of the
sky. Heaven is Hell, and Hell is Heaven.
Suchoon Mo e-mail 2007
I go to sleep and wake up in another world
I know what Hugh and Cassandra are talking about when they say the poem is
difficult to wrap around. I used the word "awakening." I go sleep and wake up in
Like a dream. In dream, things just go in a line or a orderly sequence. The space
and time order break down. But we talk about dream, dwell on dream, and try to make
some sense out of it. Now, since when everything in our life has to make a sense?
This is what we inherited from Descartes: the age of rationalism of rational being.
Can rationality define itself. I would go along with Bertrand Russell and say "No."
Like some Oriental sage of many centuries ago, I have a feeling that you write your
poem very fast, like a thunder bolt. The season which symbolizes thunder bolt if, in
Sanskrit, "Vajra." The Estoeric Buddhism (Mysticism) is called Vajrayana. I don't
know much about Kabala, but I have a feeling that it may have something akin to
Vajaayana. Or what people call "intuition" or meta-cognition. Once a reader frees
himself from the usual linguistic constraint, then the poem comes through naturally.
Cassandra's review is the best I have read so far. Some are hard hitting poems
which have woven orgasmic sexuality into spirituality thoroughly. Is there any
literary journal of religious spirituality? Should be at least one.
Suchoon Mo, an e-mail, 2007
Connections between personal history & the history of the Modern World
I made the acquaintance of Lynn Strongin this year, when she wrote me about a
book of mine and we began a correspondence. During that time, I have had the
opportunity to read a great deal of her recent work, and I have been impressed
with both the quality of mind demonstrated there and with the remarkable variety
and energy that has produced so much fine work in such a short time. It seems
to me (to take the last point first, before I try to describe what seems so
individual and valuable in Lynn Strongin's poems.)
Lynn Strongin's work is interesting because it is the product of an interesting
mind, one that insists on intuiting connections between personal history and the
history of the modern world, with all its sufferings and dislocations, between
private emotion and empathetic observation. Whatever their contexts-and a great
part of the pleasure her poetry offers is its ability to shift context, so that
the reader is suddenly aware of vistas of significance in what might have seemed
simple or occasional-her poems strike me as devotional; the poet has given herself
over to the world, to its beauty and its loss, in hopes of a redemption that perhaps
cannot come in any other way than in that act of generosity. And the poems are also
formally inventive. Strongin has developed a style where the lines, frequently varied
in length, function as much to follow the music of the voice as they do visually and
rhetorically. (Although Strongin's work is so much her own that it is not easy to
think of obvious influences, her sense of the line, with its musicality and
flexibility, reminds me of Robert Duncan's.)
I have no doubt at all that Lynn Strongin, should she receive a Fellowship from you,
will put your assistance to excellent use. Her project is feasible, and her ability
to carry it through is well-supported by the power, originality, and productivity
she has demonstrated as a poet. I know what a gift the support of the Foundation
can be for a writer (I'm still most grateful for the fellowship I received from you),
and in supporting Lynn Strongin I think you have the opportunity to encourage and
sustain a poet who is just now in the process of fulfilling the fine promise of her
earlier work and of her long dedication to her art.
"One of the more striking religious voices writing today"
Lynn Strongin has produced a significant body of work that is important for its
unrelenting intelligence, its clarity and passion.
From the start, Strongin has written poems much of whose power is local, poems
that move through moments of intensity gathered along an axis of engagement
with the things of the world. At first glance what may be most striking about
her work is her genius for phrase making: Strongin repeatedly surprises us with
figures of speech that are fresh and strong, like no one else's, that move
straight to the heart of her matter. There are surprises, too, in the conjunctions
her phrases make, and as well in the turns her discourse takes. The poems are
often exhilarating to read.
But the poems, finally, don't feel disjunctive. Strongin moves fluidly and exactly
through different registers of diction, image and abstraction, precisely calibrating
her lines to tonal nuances, and in so doing delivers the quick flights and turns of
the mind as a poetry of brilliant surfaces. There are many beauties in her work, but
these beauties never insist on themselves or promise more than they can deliver.
In her early work, Strongin focused on dyadic relationships, producing a number of
masterful love poems and poems to caretakers. Here too began the poetic sequences
that have been the bulk of her output. Since then, her subjects have ranged widely,
and she has again and again shown herself capable of writing intelligent and
passionate poems in a free verse as precise and formal as any formal verse.
Strongin's engagements with her own pain and suffering have made her one of the more
striking religious voices writing today.
Bob McNamara, poet
Now you've jettisoned me through your "gateway to the medieval" and I join you
in "the life we lift & live between floors / obliged to carry on." The medieval
atmosphere imbues the poems/variations, at least for me, with an impatient, restless
religiosity. As a reader, I'm more like your scullery maid than the speaker announcing
"jublio." I can't seem to escape your "dark imbroglio" and really don't want to, rather
want to keep traveling the variations in empathy for your struggle. Brava for your
bravery in these lines. Karla"
(anonymous comment in CENTRIFUGAL EYE winter 2007 Eve Anthony Hanninen's journal)
(Jane Bowie, born in Scotland, wrote in an e-mail from Italy)
. .I've read half the poems and then stopped because I want to wait a moment.
They're very strong and I'd like to take them in one at a time. I could "See"
so many things I remember from houses I know in the UK. . .I think many people
would shut up shop emotionally. (Feb. 27, 2007)
Lynn Strongin's "Bering Strait of Imagination"
Strongin's poetry is incomparable and stands by itself. "Bering Strait" is no
exception. It begins by referring to Breughel. And doing so creates an introduction
in a manner similar to Bach's "Intrata." There are more than one voice. Fitful
explosion of discordant sound. There are more than one scenery as an object.
Napoleons' Army marching on stomach. The submerged land bridge between Asia and
America. A child in a hospital ward while the world is shaking with the global war.
And mother will be gone as did the land bridge long ago. And the serenade about
vicarious love is being heard.
No doubt Strongin's background in music composition helps create the dynamic of her
poetry. From the frave quietude of the submerged land bridge to the frail gaze of a
child in a nighty which is window thin, the poem is not a single voice narrative which
is serial. The poet is transcending the semantic and syntactical boundaries. It is
The last line of "Wheeling" is poignant, and brands into memory. It is hard to ignore
or forget. Powerful. I so enjoyed the chuckle over the "zero to do with the
Lifkinesque..." -- indeed. Li-Young Lee said to me that he wanted to read poets
interested in being who dare confront the cold, dark universe in their minds and their
work. You do that in a most singular way, moving between the personal and the cosmic
at the speed of light. This is a good review of you from Mr. Fox who clearly gets your
genius. Love the clever parallel structure in the "zero to do with" and "everything to
do with..." lines. Symphonic, and overwhelming.
Lynn Strongin, Editor
The Sorrow Psalms: A Book of Twentieth-Century Elegy
University of Iowa Press
Lynn Strongin's anthology of twentieth-century elegies, featuring poets as different
as John Berryman and Billy Collins, argues that elegy balances between praise and
mourning. Modernist and contemporary poets have adapted the elegiac form to address
the horrors of two world wars, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and, of course,
personal loss. The book is divided into five sections: the impact of death, loss of
loved ones, the loss of a child, violent death, and resolution. These poems are
emotionally pitched-the feeling of death is in them. Strongin's book charts the
progression of elegy, but is also a museum of empathy. The balance between praise
and mourning is struck and the resulting catharsis is liberating and connecting
in the solidarity of mortality.
American poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, Volume 31, Fall 2006
We have hope because the world is imperfect and life is deficient. Light comes through
a "crack" in the world. This is really a case of Plato standing on his head. It is
about the time somebody had a wisdom to do that. And your poetry has done it.
Polio was a tragedy but left
you as the outstanding poet of our generation. A purpose?
(Glenna Luschei e-mail to Lynn strongin July 1, 2007)
Lynn Strongin contracted childhood polio at the age of 12, July 2, 1951.
Lynn Strongin, (b. NYC, 1939) is the daughter of first-generation Eastern European Jews,
a doctor and an artist. She was raised in an atmosphere rich in the arts of music, painting,
literature. Polio at age 12 left her permanently confined to a wheelchair, marking her a
child of the Twentieth Century. She now has fourteen published books, is a four-time
Pushcart Prize Nominee, and recently had a poem dealing with the Holocaust published in
four languages in CIPHER JOURNAL. (It appears in the original English, as well as in French,
German, and Italian translations.) Her forthcoming books are The Girl With Copper-Colored
Hair (or "Chernobyl Apples" Conflux Press, California) and Rembrandt's Smock (Plain View
Press, Austin, Texas.) The latter is dedicated to the memory of her mother, painter
Marguerite Strongin, who died May 21, 2007 in Boston.
http://www.new-works.org [for preview of Lynn's forthocming book THE GIRL WITH COPPER-COLORED
http://www.cipherjournal.com/html/blu.html [for "Erasing The Blue Numbers" in four languages.
This will be in BLOOD TO REMEMBER: American Poets on the Holocaust, updated version edition
by Charles Ades Fishman, Time Being Books, November 2007
Lynn Strongin's forthcoming books are:
Rembrandt's Smock (Plain View Press)
The Girl with Copper-Colored Hair (Conflux Press)
Crazed by the Sun: Poems of Ectsasy, co-edited with Glenna Luschei
Poems are forthcoming in New Zealand's "Black Mail Press," anthology, in
England's "Tears in the Fence,' as well as in "Cipher Journal," where one poem
will be translated into French, Italian, and German."
Poems forthcoming in Charles Fishman's Blood to Remember: American Poets on
the Holocaust (Time Being Books)
All poems copyrighted by their respective authors. Any reproduction of
these poems, without the express written permission of the authors, is
YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts - Copyright (c) 1993 - 2006 by
Klaus J. Gerken.
The official version of this magazine is available on Ygdrasil's
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Distribution is allowed and encouraged as long as the issue is unchanged.
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