One Quickening Eye

Twenty-One After Days, Lisa Lubasch
[75pp, $14, Avec Books, P.O. Box 1059, Penngrove, CA 94951]

There is an utter luminosity to Twenty-One After Days. I mean this as it stands; light and insight seem to saturate these pages both in layout and vocabulary. 'Light is merging,/ tending towards completion,/ lucidly creating a figure unforeseen'; we follow its lead to 'where the sunlight streaks into visibility, here on an outcast day, rustling, faltering, merging, free, lengthened inside an opening'. And the book itself is also very much concerned with utterings, the brief phrases and impulses of language as we attempt to communicate, and, albeit only briefly, to connect. Lubasch's poetry is concerned with, but not enslaved to, meaning and communication, and works to lift our preconceptions from the heaviness of assumed certainty. Language here is fluid, twists and spreads, doubles back and erases itself. The lightness of her poetry, the space and lineation it plays with, and the inherent ambiguity of poetic image and language, are all used to enact this wonderfully well.

You could conclude from this that Lubasch is writing, though through an informed, post-modern lens, in a time honoured stream-of-consciousness style. But discontinuities figure as much as continuities here. The sections of this extended poem are all connected, but also distinguished one from the other by varied use of comma, line-break, dash - I loved her use of the dash, inevitably reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, of course, but also making me think of blink after blink of perception; each glimpse momentarily clarified before succeeding to the next. Alice Walker writes about 'trying to look at something without blinking, to see what it is like'; here we have something much more like the art of blinking creating new visions.

Often an image becomes a thought, and vice versa. 'a fable flies across - misted - sliding itself out of doors - thinking aloud - in the trees - there, you see - ' ; 'how unusual - that the bird would flit - and be the destination - of its own idea - ' philosophy (phenomenology) and form frequently oscillate the one into the other. I like this process, it retains playfulness and imagery amidst abstraction. Although this is a thoughtful book, there is an elusive layer of embodiment in the writing. 'The body, slippery, is a script, walking, penitently, all abandonmentÉ' . There is also humour, uneasy enough, but I was grateful for those 'beads of laughter' which play on words: ' - what rhymes with death? - sayeth - what rhymes with orange? - in the airport lounge'. A humour of departures, perhaps. But what happens to all these phrases once they have been uttered, where can they go?

If you can be sure of anything here, it is Lubasch's wariness of simple linear narrative, of straight explanation. Phrases and the humans who utter them may hanker after the clear line: 'a promise grows - impure - in the transfer - to another - Éit speaks - to an arrow - saying - 'yes yes' - anything to hear its own voice'. But this text rather is true to its own lightness, 'momentarily - its understanding - intends a pattern' but 'all ideas are restless' , language is 'snatched, inherited'; intention and understanding are fragmented and porous. Brave is a poem which 'admits its own precariousness' like this; although in a sense, this is what all poetry must do.

But I want to convey the gracefulness as well as the thoughtfulness of this book. Imagery, such as winter, light, flowers, recur, but not oppressively. Some pages have the flickering shape of angel fish, about to flisk out of sight; others read like finely crafted haiku. Even in the more prose-like blocks of hyphenated writing, Lubasch is most definitely writing poetry, and poetry with threads back to the literary past: 'literary strands - flit bemused - about the house - '. I found familiar sounding iambic pentameters in unlikely places: 'the acknowledged lark - cannot be trimmed to fit - it's drawing nigh and struggling to become' - a sort of Keatsian echo. One or two pages really feel complete in themselves. I picked up ghostly waves of the villanelle as this lovely opening stanza repeats and mutates:

     the voice
     rehearsing at its boundaries
     in through the door   and stops   a wave   clandestine   forward through the door
     and stops.

'The voice' is personal, yet beyond personal also. Ultimately, Lubasch suggests in this book, perception, insight, might just happen to us without our volition: just like those creative leaps of imagination, faith, and all new knowledge:

     for sometimes a perception - travels through us -
                            we're unloosened - in its equivocal brightness -
                 our knowing is then changed -
                            gone from the afternoon's vista

Glance through this luminous book then, and let its light glance off you.

                        © Sarah Law 2007