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
When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping
When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping
It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, two days before the Winter Solstice. There are no flowers blooming, no buds bursting forth, no harkening to the delightful song of peepers in the pond. Instead, wind howls like the furies over piles of icy snow. At this very moment, members of the Electoral College are casting their votes for the 45th president of the United States and I sit here, still in my jammies, “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” This anachronistic expression has its roots in urban tenement life and alludes to a person waiting for the second shoe to drop after being awakened by an upstairs neighbor loudly dropping a shoe on the floor. In this case,I think it’s safe to say the other shoe has already dropped and it’s all over but the crying.
If climate change with its unseasonable and unreasonable weather patterns, polar vortexes, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, super volcanoes and solar flares aren’t enough to worry about, there are plenty of other boogeymen and evil clowns lurking under the bed to haunt my dreams in the wee, wee hours. At least one of them has a tragic hairstyle with an extreme comb-over. Never mind that a deer tick smaller than a poppy seed lurking in the grass is capable of inflicting an unholy host of autoimmune disorders. It almost makes me glad the lawn will be covered by a sheet of tundra ice until April.
The American political landscape is a 3 ring circus, a carnival freak show, a Wrestlemania smack down, an episode of the Jerry Springer Show meets Family Feud. While I had no illusions that the country was filled with happy campers from sea to shining sea, I had no idea that so many people were so pissed off about so many things, all at the same time. It’s kind of harshing my mellow. Why can’t we all just get along?
The super wealthy and all-powerful squirrel away fortunes in shell corporations and off-shore cookie jars. They buy up abandoned nuclear missile silos and build bunkers designed to withstand the impact of Planet X striking the Earth. It makes me wonder how far the spare change in my sock drawer and that extra can of Spaghettios in the pantry will take me when it all hits the fan.
I shouldn’t whine. When I think about it, I have so much to be grateful for. I’ve got my health, my demure figure, and more of most anything that I really need. I have food, clothing, shelter, modest resources and access to medical care and a social network in a place where everything isn’t blowing up or blowing away. Really. What more could I ask for? Well, maybe a little more leg room in Economy on commercial flights and tequila that is actually good for me. But still, I can’t seem to shake this sense of existential dread. Although maybe existential dread is itself a luxury? Who has time for existential dread when you’re trying to outrun a hungry lion, hide out from killer robots, or work two minimum wage jobs just trying to eke out an existence? What’s it all about Alfie?
But what truly effective action can one take to prepare for just about anything that might happen at any time? Some people become hardcore preppers and stockpile enough ammo and supplies to arm a militia and survive for years in a bunker. Some people count on being rescued by aliens, while others find solace in religion and await the Second Coming and the Rapture. Still others turn on, drop out and tune in to America’s Got Talent which really is just a 21st century version of Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. This, and The Lawrence Welk Show ruled the airwaves during the infancy of television. Even as a young child, those shows evoked in me profound feelings of existential ennui with so much cognitive dissonance that I thought I must be witnessing an alien invasion. Although, seeing an Amateur Hour contestant enthusiastically play The Star Spangled Banner on his dentures as if they were a xylophone, did leave an indelible impression on my unformed psyche.
Anyway, what does one do as it appears that the human race may be sliding irrevocably into dystopia? Squat down in the back yard, covering our collective asses with our hats and scan the skies for the apocalypse? Maybe six pack abs would help, although a six pack of IPA would be better. Perhaps positive affirmations or motivational phrases might be the ticket. Something like “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Hunter S. Thompson’s version of that was: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Maybe he meant when things get weird, people who have always been weird really come into their own or get even weirder. That certainly seems to be the case in what is evolving into a collective TV reality show.
But seriously, how does an ordinary Joe like myself respond to the threats we now face? What can artists do in the face of such madness? The artistic community in Europe, responded to the horror and brutality of World War I with the Dada movement, a clarion call to awaken modern art from its slumber. It was a call to renewed awareness and a new kind of social action as paradigms shifted and the old ways of doing things fell away. We are at a similar juncture at this point in history. Perhaps one of my responsibilities as an artist in these times is to persist in the face of adversity, and continue to try to make art that matters; art that helps elevate the human spirit and brings light and levity to the darkness. Be vigilant. Remain aware. Stay awake. Stay connected. Model civility. Perform random acts of kindness. Offer moral, emotional and economic support to each other. Be kind, but remain fierce. Keep your chin up and your eyes fixed on the horizon.
These thoughts do make me feel a little better. There are things I can do, even if it’s a little bit each day. Although, to begin, it wouldn’t hurt to actually put on some real clothes before 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Get out there. DO something. Even if it’s to go shopping, because when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Even though going to the store in one’s pajamas has somehow become the new normal, the least I can do is to go shopping in something resembling a civilized dress code.