Before It's Light

by Lyn Lifshin. 1999. 239 pages. Black Sparrow Press. Tenth Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401.

Book Review by

Of course, like many, or all, I am acquainted with Lyn Lifshin’s poems and read them, over the years, at various times, in small magazines and as small groupings in chapbooks. I knew her as a madonna and a madwoman and a seductress, and also as a poet who would drift, nostalgically, into her past. The poems appeared real, that is the images in the poems represented, so I thought, a real time, a real place, and a real past that could be called Lyn Lifshin’s. On one level, of course, this is true. However, reading 200 plus pages of Lady Lyn’s poems, and that means about 200 new poems, does transport one. Where one locates after engaging these poems is in a familiar landscape, which is, nevertheless, unreal. Everyone’s past is always fabricated. Lifshin’s past is infused and laced with emotions that make magic the objects, including the feelings, of Lyn Lifshin created places and people, places and people of her imagination. In her opening poem, But Instead Has Gone Underground, she writes, “who I am is already/ camouflaged behind/ velvet and leather.” So it is them throughout, each step, in each poem, all these places of poetry are swaddled by her, Lifshin’s imagination that has made mythic the common (community) place of everybody’s everyday. Reading these poems one dances with their seduction and falls into their witchery comfort.