CHRIS MANSEL Reviews
HOW TO BE ANOTHER by Susan Lewis
(Cervena Barva Press, Somerville, MA, 2014)
In the opening poem of Susan Lewis’s How to be Another, “Dig”, she writes: “I thought you might speak. I wouldn’t mind any of it, if only you would tell me where to look. So far, I have burrowed, you see, in every possible direction.” In the poem Ms. Lewis is writing about what it would be like to have a daughter. She imagines and some do, that through your own experiences the child would be different because of your wishes or what you yourself have lived. She writes: “In the past I have asked for justification – or, at the very least, suggestions. But answer came there none.” I really like that last sentence. It’s very vulnerable. The poem ends and she still hasn’t found her answer but who could fault her with such a beautiful plea?
Ms. Lewis is no stranger to increasingly good lines that upon reading turn into great lines. They follow you into the next page. In the poem, “Searching For” she has a couple. The first is in the second line: “This one’s sixth sense; that one’s third eye; another’s obsession with the choreography of clouds.” This poem is a search for “the ordinary man.” One can imagine the common man daydreaming by staring up at the clouds, wishing that his lot in life was better. Hoping that when his lot is finally laid to rest, as in Shakespeare’s King Richard II, “‘The worst is Death, and death will have his day.” Ms. Lewis finishes the poem with: “Dressed for the age, addressed by the sage or simply drenched in rage, you can see for yourself there’s no end to questions, which are the true germ of eccentricity.” Is there a bit of Macbeth in this ending?
Another very fine poem in this collection is “Courtship.” “Courtship” is a work of prose-poetry which almost all of these works are. A snake and an angel? A serpent and a bird? The poem is very cinematic albeit too brief. He says: “I have more selves than I can listen to.” Does this represent the many lies he can tell? He has so many he has to pick only one to tell? She says: “It’s not your fault, I reassured him, life’s too short to choose your self wisely.” Does this mean that in life that when we are constantly re-inventing ourselves it is ok to change upon the situation? She says: “I recognized the predator glaring out at me. I had no choice but to reach for my whip & chair.” One must fight off dishonesty and evil. Earlier in the poem, “…his damp eyes went yellow & flecked.” At the end of the poem he, “slithered away into the ditch and she, “spread my wings and flapped to safety.” Very cinematic and great poetry.
“The green grass cringes when the dewy-eyed doe treads on her cloven hoofs. Another blind spot is the secret life of stones.” This is from a poem entitled “How to Be an Animal.” Is there symmetry between the grass that “cringes” and the doe that “treads”? “How to Be an Animal” reads to me as an example of how to handle someone, a friend perhaps who has opened up to you and others but refused to take that next step. Crying wolf is one thing but in your life you only have so much time for yourself. As Ms. Lewis writes: “I would rather leave you to the memory of lustrous, razor-sharp diodes.”
Susan Lewis’s wit and eloquence cuts like an edition of Jean Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine would if it were performed on stages across this stagnant country of ours. Continued success to Ms. Lewis.
Chris Mansel is a writer, filmmaker, epileptic, musician, photographer and a permanent outsider for some reason. Along with Jake Berry, he formed the band Impermanence who have released one album, Arito. He releases music under the name dilation Impromptu who have released four albums and have just released a new Cd Indentions On The North Face of Everest. His writing has been published in the Experioddi(cyber)cist, Apocryphal Text, and the Atlantic Press among others. He has made over 260 short films for other artists as well as his own work.