Strange Life by Eleanor Lerman

Woodstock, New York. Mayapple Press. 2014. ISBN 9781936419357  

Strange LifeEleanor Lerman, a visionary American poet from New York, whispers her view of contemporary society instead of shouting or employing complex poetic devices. Her verse is accessible, multilayered, and often brooding. The poems in Strange Life, centering on issues such as the afterlife, time, and understanding transitions, are arranged in three sections: Metaphysics, The Politics of Resistance, and The Future Looms. 

The complexity of her thoughts and subtle mood changes make her poems a pleasure to read. They are not without humor—as in the poem “Time Sits Heavily,” which opens, “In the middle of the night, it becomes apparent / that your brain is leaking. This is a symptom, surely / but not the first.”

The poems have a delightful sense of wondering what is real—if what we see is truly reliable—and questions the durability of relationships and the parts we are assigned. She is at home with the constellations and the classical gods. Time is echoed again and again in her work: the brevity of our lives, the mysterious appearances time marks in our spans, the importance of the sun, moon, dawn, and dusk—as rivers run, wheels turn. 

Lerman’s search for unity, meaning, becoming, and order is breathtaking in its reach. We are invited to join her in this universal quest and rejoice when there are closures or glimpses of understanding in our modern life. The poet uses the pronouns “you,” “she,” and “we” to the exclusion of “I”; her poems remind 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.”

Lerman, recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, shows us that the common often grants glimpses of the mystery of living—illusory truths, the universal aspects just beyond our human ability and understanding. Her poems beg multiple readings.

Carol Smallwood
Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

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