Dragonfly Press Logo     The Montserrat Review Logo

Persephone by Lyn Lifshin

Red Hen Press,2009. 181 pp. ISBN978-I-59709-124-4

A Review by Natalie Lobe


To read Lyn Lifshin’s, Persephone, is to be energized by a flow of poems which catapult through the book’s 181 pages. Prophetically, none of her poems ends with a period so our natural instinct is to read non-stop, absorbing the cumulative effect. Her subject matter ranges from self discovery, love, motherhood, women and poems of place and important events. Although the topics appear diverse, there is a natural, almost urgent flow from one poem to the next.

In Section I, Autobiography, she writes about the ephemeral self: “if I tell you/how bruised she got you’ll/ probably think she’s me.” In another poem, “a woman goes into darkness/……..You probably think it could be me.” None-the-less the persona of this poet comes out loud and clear as a woman of intensity, passion and sensitivity, ready to face all the ironies of the human condition.

The poems move effortlessly on to the Section on love where the term, black roses, contrasts the dark side of love with its sensuality such as “skin touching skin.” In The Affair, which portrays an on-line romance, she says, “I wanted his body glued to mine/Distance kept the electricity vivid. /It was a dangerous tango. / How could I know his mother leaped into Niagara Falls. /How could I know he was ice.”

Some of the most powerful poems are in the section, Bay of Love and Sorrow: Mother Poems. Here Lyn conveys her intense affection for her mother as well as a profound sense of impending loss: “My mother’s crumbling inside/ her black coat. She wants/ to get to the ocean. it’s/ late, with bad cells, IV./But I rustle her into my T Bird/We can’t wait for waves. I’m / dragging, pushing her. She/stumbles, shriveled as some/thing lost in some Salvation/Army coat…” The poem ends with this. “...I cover her, think the/ first stop, a warm motel where I / can undress her, wrap her in warm/ towels, fuel up for what’s ahead.

In the several Sections that follow, the poetic voice turns to other women including The Woman In love with Maps, The Ice Maiden Mummy, The Mad Girl and, plucked out of mythology, Leda’s daughter, half-woman, half-swan. The poet, herself, is always a presence. In these poems the poet skillfully makes use of the bizarre to bring out some universal themes – isolation, cruelty and passion.

The book concludes with a series of poems on places followed by several on the 9/11 event. Her description of different seasons are so integrated with a special happening, such as a heron with “tangerine and gold in its beak,” she brings the chill or the heat right into our bones. The poems on 9/11 are as forceful as any on the subject, the images raw but without sentimentality. Here is an example:

Someone Says They Looked Like
Cartwheeling Birds

the quietest moments some
one will say are the worst.
Someone doesn’t know what to
do with new wedding photos.

Someone eats, not tasting
what she swallows. Someone
who just got her law degree
goes home to the rooms she

will lie in alone, can’t
imagine looking for a job
now, watches a video of
the wedding weeks ago,

how handsome her husband
looked, how “we wish you
a lifetime of happiness”
on a card now stings. Some

child says the falling birds
were flame birds


Natalie Lobe is a poet with numerous published works. She is a Maryland Poet in the Schools and teaches at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis Maryland.

Copyright © 1999-2011 Dragonfly Press. All rights reserved. ISSN 1097-7473