Strange Life
by Eleanor Lerman

Mayapple Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-936-41935-7.
Reviewed by Carol Smallwood
Posted on 07/14/2014


The collection of 57 free verse poems varying in length is divided into 20 poems in Metaphysics, 13 poems in The Politics of Resistance, 24 poems in The Future Looms. The cover of a highway devoid of people or buildings with cloud patterns suits the mood of the poems that do not deal with the usual topics of love and loss but the nature of time.

The first poem sets the tone of the collection with: "Yes, it's a strange life /But wait. It's getting stranger still"

Lerman doesn't use periods but the reader knows a new sentence has begun by the capital letters. Her use of simple words underlies the complexity of her thoughts and subtle mood changes which make her poems a pleasure to read. Her delicate use of color and understatements underscores the illusiveness of human experiences with time.

Brevity is echoed in: "How brief a day: these glowing minutes /braceleting the hours, the hours like/ a skin, a skein, thinning into memory"

The poet's glimpses of a creator include: "God is...where He is when He wants to be; except when /He is not"; another concept is the deity: "The ancient, double-hearted god, Horus, "holding a grudge"

About humans being at ease when living: "The truth is that we've run out/of all the easy stuff and as a consequence, /your're going to be restless from here on out" And: "Whoever is running this place has a cruel streak"

The poems have a delightful sense of wondering what is real—if our brain is really reliable—and question the durability of relationships and the parts we are assigned. The poet's familiarity with constellations is shown by describing the Crab Nebula as "the one with the beady eyes and bad intentions." The classical gods, such as Endymion and Horus, seem to be the poet's close acquaintances.

Time is echoed again and again in her work: the brevity of our lives; the mysterious appearances that time marks in our spans; the importance of the sun, moon, dawn and dusk, as rivers run, wheels turn. In the poem, "The Girl of the Lonely Horizons," the girl "finds a bureau full of stars /leftovers, probably, that can be /used to fill in empty spaces".

Lerman's search for unity, meaning, becoming, and order is breathtaking in its reaches. We join her in this universal quest and rejoice when there are closures or glimpses of understanding. The poet uses the pronouns you, she, we, but not I; her poems reminds one of the definition of poetry by Octavio Paz: "Poetry is not what words say but what is said between them, that which appears fleetingly in pauses and silences."

The settings have a rural ease with nature, use ordinary and everyday events; explorations often take place during the middle of the night, such as wondering about an afterlife. Lerman is an important award-winning poet who shows us that it is the common place that grants glimpses of the mystery of living—truth that lies just beyond the human vision and brain.

Eleanor Lerman is the author of six books of poetry, two collections of short stories, and a novel, Janet Planet (2011). Her most recent collection of poetry, Strange Life, was published by Mayapple Press in 2014 and her second novel, Radiomen, is forthcoming from The Permanent Press in 2015. She is a National Book Award nominee, the recipient of the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and a 2007 Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Visit her website.

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