Dwelling Space Poetry by Lisa Harris Cayuga Lake Books 2019 69 pages
“Love the earth and sun and animals, Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, Stand up for the stupid and crazy, Devote your labor and income to others….Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book; Dismiss whatever insults your own soul; And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” Walt Whitman
“All of the writing I do is about a search for spirit and truth, philosophically speaking, when any one of us identifies a sliver of spirit and truth, each of us is made brighter. So all my writing is about locating light by looking at the darkness and the light, by looking at the ugly with the beautiful. I also weigh words and try to make the sound perfect especially in the hardest parts of a poem or story or essay.” Lisa Harris
Dwelling Space is Lisa Harris’s seventh book and her second collection of poetry. This is the work of a mature artist in full voice. The poems are statements about observation, creative process, and spiritual development and explore universal themes of time, place, love, seasons and life cycles, geography, nature, the planet, and the cosmos itself. The word cosmos rather than universe implies viewing the universe as a complex and orderly system that is the opposite of chaos. Dwelling Space is about this complex and orderly system. It is a book about microcosms and macrocosms, the interconnectivity of all living things, life on the cellular level, and the place of sentient beings within the larger context of the cosmos.
The book is thoughtfully organized and laid out in five parts: I. Journey From Rock To Flight, II. A Gardener Of Time And Dust, III. Deserts And Oceans, IV. The Color Of Mercy, V. Sermon Of Light. The poems within each section are simply numbered, and not individually titled, so it reads like one continuous poem without the encumbrance of titles that might interrupt the flow. Dwelling Space is a book length poem that harkens back to other long form poems such as Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass with its sense of transcending time and place and offers a universal, ecstatic celebration of being alive in the world in the present moment.
Lisa Harris’s command of the English language enables her to render vivid imagery that evokes authentic emotional response. The poet leads readers along a path that has been traveled by Hildegard von Bingen and Rumi, Rilke, the American Transcendentalists and Walt Whitman, TS Eliot, and contemporary poets Gary Snyder, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe and Mary Oliver. The work’s lush, evocative prose serves as a bright beacon and antidote to the diminution of language in this age of newsfeed sound bites, Twitter-speak and social media slang.
Dwelling Space claims its rightful place in the lineage and company of other poems and poets I’ve mentioned above. Dwelling Space is Earth’s house hold.
“All beings, seen and not seen are part of Earth’s household microbes and ions, bees and ants, people and stones.”
I am reminded of Gary Snyder’s 1969 book Earth House Hold, which explored many of the same themes. “As a poet,” Snyder tells us, “I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic; the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying intuition and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe.” Fifty years later Dwelling Space is remarkably aligned with the same values.
The poetry in Dwelling Space does not fit neatly into any of the classic categories ~ lyrical, narrative or dramatic. I view it as a hybrid between lyrical poetry and narrative poetry. Largely written in the third person, it puts the reader in the position of looking over the shoulder of the poet to observe and to make their own meaning from this multi-sensory experience. While it reads well off the page, it rings out like music when read aloud and resonates like a symphony with different movements. Envision Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
The rhythm of the language is hypnotic and the cadence even sounds liturgical at times. A Gardener Of Time And Dust ends with a blessing.
“Waves sweep against sand, making the word;
Shantih, shantih, shantih.”
Shantih, a Sanskrit word meaning peace or inner peace, is prayed at the end of an Upanishad and also appears in TS Eliot’s The Wasteland. The rhythm is sometimes reminiscent of shamanic incantation:
“Locate constriction. Writhe. Slither. Pant.
Rain falls. Sun dries the backs of throats.
Sun burns retinas. Heartbeats throb in temples.
Stand firm. Welcome anger and fear.
Welcome pain and doubt, too.”
The imagery is cinemagraphic and dynamic, with multiple things intertwining and occurring simultaneously. In this way it reminds me of the descriptive prose of Richard Ford and the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu. Dwelling Space is a multi-sensory experience that evokes a sense of synesthesia that is, at times, dizzying, kaleidoscopic and psychedelic.
“Bullfrogs bellow love songs.
Fireflies blink encrypted messages.
A coyote barks in the far field.
Bats swoop and skim the pond’s surface
searching for food.”
“She can taste green and hear it.
She can feel green and smell it.”
Dwelling Space is deep and heady stuff, but by no means obscure or inaccessible. This is not a “one and done” read. There are levels and layers and new things to discover each time you return. This is a book that will hold up over time. Like any work of art with complexity, depth and nuance you’ll want to revisit it time and time again.
Dwelling Space is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, New York https://www.buffalostreetbooks.com
Lisa Harris writes poetry, short fiction, novels and creative non-fiction. She is the author of another poetry collection Traveling Through Glass and five books of fiction: Low Country Stories, Boxes, ‘Geechee Girls, Allegheny Dream, and The Raven’s Tale. She lives and writes in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Front Cover by Nicholas Down: A Harbored Memory Nicholas Down lives and works as a painter in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Cayuga Lake Books was founded in 2012 by some authors from the Ithaca, New York area who were looking for alternatives to mainstream publishing. More information and their catalogue can be found at https://cayugalakebooks.com