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“Lisa Summers’ new book of poetry Ogygia is delightful, mythic and episodic. The best analogy for this well-crafted volume is a film, perhaps a film like Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’ or a Terrance Malik film. Summers’ poetic eye moves in and out of shots, sometimes offering a panoramic view, at other times close up shots of the lives and moments that inhabit that mythic world.
A poem that beautifully illustrates this camera lens effect is ‘Mylar Sirens.’ The name of this poem defines Summers’ aesthetic in this volume, blending the gaudy artificial with mythic voices of seduction and longing. The panorama is dominated by a ‘pitiless sun” of a ‘blank // and glaring gaze.’ The focus shifts to the tune of ‘Benny and the Jets’ (Electric boots . . .). The camera chooses points in time to reflect the inner musings of the outer frame perspective. A standout line is the depiction of someone who is not the speaker’s mother, but might be:
‘Two Women in floral pantsuits
(One might be her mother)’
The landscape of these memories, although mingled with mythic and Romantic elements, is decidedly not. ‘Not a patch of dappled light // here to soften the grassy expanses.’ There is no Hopkins to infuse beauty into this vision.
‘An Open Letter to Mammon’ has a strikingly different tone. It is an urgent critique of greed as a mythic, all consuming force; not just the ‘old, the weak, and the very young’ are “desiccated’ by this force, but rather the very landscape of the world in the poem that follows. This ‘muddy touché’ to Mammon is a key passage in the world view of this volume, in which the forces of spirit, goddess, beauty and mythic female power find themselves at the margins, torn, adrift, and forgotten.
One such women is invoked in ‘Eulogy for Sycorax. The ‘Eternity Machine’ of the starlit sky dominates the landscape of this poem, but Caliban’s mother is brought into focus here. Again, we see a grotesque Romanticism:
‘She Steps across the stinking mounds of
Starfish, spent by some plague
Of the waves sent by Proteus.’
It is unclear if Sycorax herself is the “primary dreamer” or if she will awaken to renew this fallen world.
The witches, outcasts and forgotten goddesses who people this volume in the richly textured language of this gifted poet remind the reader that some knowledge, some power, survives in roots that go deeper than the culture of patriarchal power and greed that seeks to efface them from the record of time:
‘Some roots begin in the future and reach back
Into the dry, scorched earth of the present
In search of the nutrients and the clear water
For which they thirst.’
The root at the end of ‘Half Savage and Free’ echoes the roots of earlier poems. There is a haunting forlorn quality to the skies and landscapes in this volume with echoes of Wuthering Heights. Mammon figures here too. Looking both forward and backwards through both a wide lens and mythic scope and a detailed microscope, this elegant volume of poetry and its vision contributes importantly to that search for meaning and roots.”
(Professor Tim Wandling is currently the Graduate Advisor at Sonoma State University’s Department of English. He has been a Literature faculty member of the department since completing his doctorate at Stanford in 1997, on Byron, “Transgressive Eloquence,” and 19th Century theories about reading. He has presented or published papers on Lord Byron, Thomas Hardy, J.S. Mill, and the teaching of Social Protest literature. His scholarly interests include Romantic and Victorian literature, Frankfurt School critical theory, socialist feminism, utopian and social protest literature of all sorts, and the New Women literature of the late 19th c.)
“If you want to enjoy poetry for its range of emotions, from humorous to revelatory to poignant, for its range of voices and points of view; for its accessibility and immediacy; and for the vitality of its language and crystal-clear imagery, read these extraordinary and highly original poems by Lisa Summers.”
(Professor James Tipton teaches Creative Writing at College of Marin. Tipton received his PhD from UC Davis where he studied with Gary Snyder. He is the author of the best selling book Annette Vallon – A Novel of the French Revolution.)
“In her debut collection of poetry, Sonoma’s Lisa Summers explores the seasons and contradictions found within the West’s topographic and emotional terrain. ‘Star Thistle and Other Poems’ (FMRL) grapples, too, with altered landscapes. A native of the Bay Area, Summers reflects her first-hand experience of witnessing our local environment transform. In “House Finches,” Summers writes: “The only traces of the old farm / its rich soil was buried alive / by sidewalks, roads and houses / are the anise weeds that burst forth / from the memory of good earth / in the last open field.” Drawing on mythology—Kuan Yin, Aphrodite, Eros—Summers explores the psyche, often bringing the reader back to the great vast ocean for a breath of fresh air.” —Dani Burlison, North Bay Bohemian