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Paul Baumann Reviews Lissa Kiernan’s Two Faint Lines in the Violet
Do you happen to know Faulkner's speech, on the occasion of his acceptance of the Nobel Prize? It comes to mind, as he apparently had to work a bit against the perception that his work created a pessimistic attitude. It’s a horror, to say the least, to look back, with Faulkner, to the Civil War, and to contemplate the current situation, in which his metaphors seem all the more stridently realized, "the only question now is when will I be blown up?". Nothing different has emerged from the ground that Faulkner depicted with a musical vividness.
Lissa Kiernan's book, Two Faint Lines in the Violet (Negative Capability Press, 2014), has the same fierce determination not to flinch, and the same sense of wonder, the same idea of what a poet's job is: Not to avoid reality, but to take up the most abject along with the most lulling, and to make something that stays wonderful from the materials of experience. We need to see these images of ourselves blown up, just as we need to have new, beautiful songs.
It’s been some weeks since I read it now, but its rich atmosphere along with its palpable embedments continue to resonate, being mixed now with the amazement of Absalom, Absalom, which I am now reading for the first time.
--Paul Baumann, multimedia artist
Lissa Kiernan’s Two Faint Lines In The Violet is one of the more important collections of poems to have been recently published. Important because of what will come after this declaration of her presence in modern poetry. A gorgeous publication from Negative Capability Press, Kiernan’s poems appeal to all palates, which is rare and so very necessary. And it is a complete book, not accidentally written, and naturally generous with impact.
Early on, in Sun-Faint Suggestion, I wrote “Sigh” next to this near-perfect line: “You’re ice-locked in this painting Dad traded for a stuffed owl he’d found molting high in the house—attic where my lissome self unearthed hills of blue hula hoops flecked with paper flowers.” In “Crack” she demonstrates awareness of pause and language so that no devices in poetry are detected. She’s just exploring and offering the reader access to her exploration. And in “Labor Day” it’s arguably impossible to avoid getting lost in her opening:
Cricket buzz pedals over river-
rush. Starfish limbs splay
across the sea-sky. Kindling.
We need kindling.
Over weak coffee, we crumple
page after page of Sunday’s
Times. Poker gray bundles
Under twisted twigs.
The poems are also very personal and observant. You will understand her connection to family, father, womanhood, selfhood. One “wow” piece is Short-Term Memory Loss: Conversation #48. Historically I don’t go into detail about the poems that bowl me over, but this one does it. I would buy the book for this piece alone.
Vigilance and Proxy remind me of Paul Monette’s Love Alone, which are heartbreaking and touching affirmations of human connectivity. Through these poems I learned Kiernan is capable of being many things at once in the governance of her narrative strength. Poems are supposed to have that quality, that characteristic of otherness that blends with the real to tilt readers off balance. It is an art of both nearness and distance, and Lissa Kiernan seems to write poems with this important truth in mind.
Something of power exists in almost every poem. In Anniversary, a standout line is “I confess: in that month of black things, I could not have told you the season.” In The Hollow Clap Of Castanets In Hospital Rooms, I loved the lines “You did not even intend to suggest a desire for your own bed—where you might glimpse earth’s curve through leafless woods, and know you’d hear the songbird soon,”. And the end of Still Life With Irish Dirt, I was wowed again with “You look up to see your face walking towards you.”
Two Faint Lines In The Violet also contains neurosis, fun, vulnerability, and humor. It took me a full week to read because of how much it provides its audience, whereas some books can be sped through due to its tone and pacing. But Kiernan’s debut collection of poems must be carefully considered. And followers of poets and poetry will understand when I restate that this is an important book because of what she gives, as well as what she is sure to offer next, and next. Lissa Kiernan is a spectacular addition to the art form.