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Shaker House Poems (1976): Better Have Your House in Order When the Shakin’ Begins

Lyn Lifshin, Shaker House Poems (Sagarin Press, 1976)

photo credit: thatusedbookstore.com

Contrary to popular rumor, the book does not come with free furniture.

I feel like at some point in every collection of Lyn Lifshin’s poetry I review I use a phrase along the lines of “if you’re already a fan of Lifshin’s work…”, so I might as well get it out of the way in the first sentence. Lyn Lifhsin is one of America’s most distinct poets; even with the legions of imitators her work has spawned (like Bukowski, she makes this whole poetry thing look way easier than it actually is), when you crack open a book of Lifshin’s work, even if her name wasn’t on the cover you’d know it instantly. Loose-limbed and yet succinct, playing fast and hard with the guidelines that govern word choice and placement, but cleaving always to image, image, image, which is what makes her work consistently so good:

“one day in august
a class of girls 10
to 14 suddenly started
shaking and whirling
Again in the evening
Even adults started
having gift visions
mansions in the sky
meetings with strange
people dead brothers
indians no one could
sleep or work right”
(–from “13”)

Now, I’m already a long-established fan of Lifshin’s work; I think I first encountered her stuff in a magazine in 1988 or so, and by that time I’d already seen her name dozens, if not hundreds, of times in Poet’s Market. I’ve read dozens of her books, and, well, despite all I said above some of them are inconsistent (I’m sorry, but those two-line pieces in some of the Madonna books are no more poems than Ammons’ infamous “Cold Rheum”). This one is not, in any way. I may have had a little extra oomph here thanks to synchronicity; I started reading this while I was immersed in Mrs. James Ward Thorne’s American Rooms in Miniature photo book, and Thorns started talking Shaker furniture when I was about halfway through Shaker House Poems, so I was getting some factual, if dry, information on the Shakers that dovetailed very well with Lifshin’s impressionist history. If you stumble across a copy of Thorne’s book—which is probably by now easier to find than this—they make a very good pair, but Shaker House Poems can easily stand on its own. Having some other info about the Shakers on hand is just icing on the cake. Lifshin’s poetry, as usual, is its own reward. ****

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Best I Read, 2013 Edition | Popcorn for Breakfast

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