GENEVIEVE KAPLAN Reviews
The Greenhouse by Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet
(Bull City Press, Durham, N.C., 2014)
Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet’s The Greenhouse is an incubator, a place for a mother to raise her young. “We made a person, / anchor to the earth. Lucky boy” (24), Stonestreet writes. The poems here continually consider what life with a young child is like, and readers are shown daily rituals like breastfeeding (“the only count the heartbeat rhythm of the mouth” (9)), “Walking, rocking. Singing one song” (10), and “[t]hat patch at the back of his ear: dirt and peanut butter and chlorine and milk” (13). Readers can witness the child growing through these poems, but The Greenhouse is also a place for the author to develop and experiment with poetry as much as anything else. Stonestreet’s poems range across the page; the author deftly slows readers down, speeds up, or lingers on phrases, setting the words off in parentheses and pushing them toward the right side of the page. Stonestreet’s open forms remind us how unlike things become like, how one thing grows into the next: “Name as many things as you can that start with S. / Start. Star. Son. Sun” (28). The Greenhouse allows the poems—and the language they are built from— to expand.
The content of Stonestreet’s poems is both narrative and meditative, yet gathered together they continually unravel any storyline. While the glimpses given into the family’s growth are roughly chronological, and timeframe of the poems seems to span years, The Greenhouse is neither about the passage of time nor child development. On the whole, the book is absorbed in a larger and more nebulous aspect of mothering, the issue of the divided self. Their narrator lives in a kind of push-pull simultaneity, bringing readers along on the journey “half here in the kitchen / (& while nursing) (& on the train)” (15). Just as acts of mothering happen anywhere and everywhere, the speaker is both “more than ready for it and I am not ready for it” (20). Readers find the narrator always “holding down the page with one hand and cutting up / apple with the other, split / (insistent) / (yielding) / (pulled) // (hanging on)” (17).
Stonestreet’s poetry demonstrates an unyielding self-awareness both through the observations of the narrator and in the subject matter. In “After Dropping My Son Off at Preschool,” the author reminds us that “the greenhouse encompass[es] three things: a mother, a gingko tree, a boy,” (19) – true. The chapbook The Greenhouse does include these items. However, in the same poem Stonestreet’s narrator looks forward to “The luxury of stepping outside // myself,” wondering “where is outside?” and noting that “self [is] a place” (18-19). “I think this is where the metaphor breaks down” (21), she writes later. Even the subject matter explored in the book is called into question: “Do you want // me to tell that story? Because almost guaranteed you will find / it boring // (domestic) (female) (too much) (too little, too small)” (26).
The Greenhouse is never boring – it is compelling, and it is always changing. There is always beauty in both language and image, there is always tension and surprise. “Bright / tangle, snaking line // of fire” (14), Stonestreet shows us, “constellation / of explosion, brittle gold against the blue, glint and scatter, / visible” (26).
Genevieve Kaplan is the author of In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation's poetry publication prize, and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013), a chapbook of continual erasures. She lives in southern California and edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose.