“Lisa Summers’ new book of poetry Ogygia is delightful, mythic and episodic. The best analogy for this well-crafted volume is a film, perhaps a film like Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’ or a Terrance Malik film. Summers’ poetic eye moves in and out of shots, sometimes offering a panoramic view, at other times close up shots of the lives and moments that inhabit that mythic world.
A poem that beautifully illustrates this camera lens effect is ‘Mylar Sirens.’ The name of this poem defines Summers’ aesthetic in this volume, blending the gaudy artificial with mythic voices of seduction and longing. The panorama is dominated by a ‘pitiless sun” of a ‘blank // and glaring gaze.’ The focus shifts to the tune of ‘Benny and the Jets’ (Electric boots . . .). The camera chooses points in time to reflect the inner musings of the outer frame perspective. A standout line is the depiction of someone who is not the speaker’s mother, but might be:
‘Two Women in floral Paintsuits
(One Might be her Mother)’
The landscape of these memories, although mingled with mythic and Romantic elements, is decidedly not. ‘Not a patch of dappled light // here to soften the grassy expanses.’ There is no Hopkins to infuse beauty into this vision.
‘An Open Letter to Mammon’ has a strikingly different tone. It is an urgent critique of greed as a mythic, all consuming force; not just the ‘old, the weak, and the very young’ are “desiccated’ by this force, but rather the very landscape of the world in the poem that follows. This ‘muddy touché’ to Mammon is a key passage in the world view of this volume, in which the forces of spirit, goddess, beauty and mythic female power find themselves at the margins, torn, adrift, and forgotten.
One such women is invoked in ‘Eulogy for Sycorax. The ‘Eternity Machine’ of the starlit sky dominates the landscape of this poem, but Caliban’s mother is brought into focus here. Again, we see a grotesque Romanticism:
‘She Steps across the stinking mounds of
Starfish, spent by some plague
Of the waves sent by Proteus.’
It is unclear if Sycorax herself is the “primary dreamer” or if she will awaken to renew this fallen world.
The witches, outcasts and forgotten goddesses who people this volume in the richly textured language of this gifted poet remind the reader that some knowledge, some power, survives in roots that go deeper than the culture of patriarchal power and greed that seeks to efface them from the record of time:
‘Some roots begin in the future and reach back
Into the dry, scorched earth of the present
In search of the nutrients and the clear water
For which they thirst.’
The root at the end of ‘Half Savage and Free’ echoes the roots of earlier poems. There is a haunting forlorn quality to the skies and landscapes in this volume with echoes of Wuthering Heights. Mammon figures here too. Looking both forward and backwards through both a wide lens and mythic scope and a detailed microscope, this elegant volume of poetry and its vision contributes importantly to that search for meaning and roots.”
(Professor Tim Wandling is currently the Graduate Advisor at Sonoma State University’s Department of English. He has been a Literature faculty member of the department since completing his doctorate at Stanford in 1997, on Byron, “Transgressive Eloquence,” and 19th Century theories about reading. He has presented or published papers on Lord Byron, Thomas Hardy, J.S. Mill, and the teaching of Social Protest literature. His scholarly interests include Romantic and Victorian literature, Frankfurt School critical theory, socialist feminism, utopian and social protest literature of all sorts, and the New Women literature of the late 19th c.)
“In Ogygia, Summers floats on the tide of myth. One also hears echoes of Plath and the Mirror and Wylie and finds shades of Tennyson, Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci,’ early Yeats with the musicality and nuance of the refrain, not used enough in contemporary poetry:
‘Before the night pulls tight its shutters / At the coming of the dawn.’
(Professor James Tipton currently teaches creative writing at College of Marin. He holds a PhD in literature from the University of California, Davis where he worked with Gary Snyder on his doctoral dissertation on the California nature poet, Kenneth Rexroth. Tipton has taught English and creative writing at U.C. Davis, the University of Bordeaux, France, and at colleges around the Bay Area. He is the author of the best selling novel Annette Vallon.)
“I was transported into a mystical land of springtails, selkies, myths and maidens – so transported I hardly realized I was parked in the Whole Foods lot, still in the driver’s seat with Ogygia propped against my steering wheel. I read it cover to cover, going back for seconds on favorite lines about lichen-covered faces and secret chambers of squash, and hanging on the powerful italics and ending lines, like interrupted dreams and offerings of pins.
What I think good poetry should do, and does, is shake up the dusty places in the soul, unsettle the mind in inexplicable ways, and remind us of things we didn’t know we’d forgotten, awakening parts we didn’t know were asleep. Good poetry should cause a dust storm of déjà vu that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, like missing the smell of a horse’s sweat that you’ve never ridden.
This book stirred me.”
(Stacey Tuel holds a Masters of English Literature from Sonoma State University with an emphasis on Creative Writing. Her story “My Mexican Cleaning Lady” was included in Best Women’s Travel Writing. Recently Stacey can be found behind an old typewriter as a member of the Farm Fresh Poets at the Sonoma Valley Farmers’ Market. Her new chapbook “Snapshots of Ireland” is based on travels with companion and co-author Jonah Raskin (CultureCounter Press.) )