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Lisa’s poetry is personal without self-absorption, clever without cleverness; her interests lie close to the heart. She writes with the clear eyes and head of an outsider.
In these powerful poems, Lisa Dart’s concern is with the weight of memory and the way it defines self. Uncalled for, memory seems to ‘come, flit land precise//on random things’ so that moments of the past return again and again and become a kind of ‘blueprint of the future’. Dart’s talent is not only an ability to pinpoint such truths, but also to articulate them vividly. The poems are neither forced nor overly philosophical; instead each presents a stunning moment from a lived life in eloquent language that penetrates our own.
A small but perfectly polished gem of a pamphlet containing just twelve poems, where ‘the self’ is explored not just through self absorption or endless introspection, but in terms of the fragility of memory, the everyday oddities an acute eye and ear will perceive, without shouting or fuss.
The poems we heard were accessible but not simple; they were based on personal emotion but not confessional; that essayed exquisite yet exact descriptions of nature germane to her themes of love, death, meaning, memory and self; that were modest but with secret ambition to get to you; and that were written in technically accomplished free (mostly) verse. She unfailingly convinces you of her sincerity and of the pressure she feels to mediate experiences; the artifice is in not being aware of the artifice. For example, in “The Quietest Hour”:Sounds like clicheslull us into the slumber of securitylike the shutter bang on a hot afternoonor your breath at siesta timean unconscious rhythmof whispered tenderness.You notice right away how quiet it is, and how it depends on the precise description of something you yourself may have experienced, and now recall and feel more intensely.The poem shockingly concludes with a gunshot and a scream, but you’ll have to read it for yourself.One of her lines (from “The Hour of the Wolf”) is, ‘the light that startles as it brightens’: exactly.
The twelve poems included here are snapshots of memory, but they aren’t dead memories trapped in those instants. “We all have other selves,” the poet tells us in ‘Carrion’, and her poems explore those selves manifested in the past, present and future.Lisa Dart thinks deeply and likes to explore philosophical questions through crisp imagery. This often works well. In ‘Flying a Red Kite’, she recalls trips to the beach with a friend, a kite, and “always a cold wind and desire/ tugging hard at things”, a promising symbolic image, although the poem could have tugged at the image harder.Sometimes though, her narrators struggle with complex ideas in ways that didn’t convince me. In ‘The Anchor’, for instance, the tide washes up a rusty anchor on the shore. The narrator then ponders Nietzsche’s theories of recurrence and “Puzzling this… felt, once more, your very first caress.”I just don’t buy “puzzling this”. It’s too removed from the memory of a physical caress to be anything other than the organised thoughts of a poet. The first-person narrator comes over only as a vehicle for the poet’s ideas.But I enjoyed most of these poems. I admired their ambition, their refusal to settle for the superficial. My favourite was ‘Between Things’, which explores the difficulty of finding words for in-between states:A word, too, for when the mind meandersand—as if on air—memories come, flit,land precise on random things...The collection is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.