Poetry from a Favorite Novelist

I didn’t know that one of my favorite novelists wrote poetry until I received Lynn Sharon Schwartz’ new book of poems, No Way Out But Through (University of Pittsburgh Press.) Ms. Schwartz’ novels include Leaving Brooklyn, which tells of the life-changing experience of a teenage girl from Brooklyn making her first forays into Manhattan (where the sky looks bluer than in her own home borough), and Disturbances in the Field, that follows a group of Barnard graduates into their later lives.

Her poems have the wit and grace of her prose, and one of them, “Collecting Myself,” got me laughing out loud. The poet asks what “flawed vision” prompted her to buy a book of bilingual Russian stories –

. . .page three turned down
a year now, something by Gogol –
traveler, inn, horse, the rest a blur. . .

Those few lines seemed to sum up for me every story written by a 19th century Russian – Gogol, Gorky, Turgenev, Chekov – all their stories seemed to have those elements. I also recognized the books I’ve bought that I thought would “be good for me,” or  “improve my mind,” or “teach me more about writing,” or some other noble goal, but I never finished.

There are also insightful and witty poems about relationships, as in “First Loves,” when she tells of marrying the first boy she met who read books and could converse about them, and later thinks “It was like buying the first house that you see. . .”  Happily, she realizes  “. . .sometimes that works out quite well,” and concludes that there are times when “it seems a stroke of luck, miraculous.”

There is real wisdom in these poems, though they are never didactic and always entertaining, holding you in the spell of language, each word sounding the right note. The title of the book is itself a meaningful message, reminding us that in every challenge, no matter how we try to skirt around it, in the end, there is “No Way But Through.”
 

 

 

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield