Return from Elsewhere

Lin­da Stern Zisquit
  • Review
By – March 19, 2015

Although it is a slim vol­ume at just under 100 pages, Lin­da Zisquit’s Return From Else­where reads like three books, its three sec­tions quite dis­tinct from each oth­er not only in con­tent and tone, but in form, as well. What unites the poems in this wide­ly var­i­ous book, which is Zisquit’s fifth, is Zisquit’s engage­ment with the inter­ac­tion between two aspects of life that are always with us: mun­dane dai­ly tasks and mor­tal­i­ty. Much of the strange and sor­row­ful wis­dom, beau­ty, and pathos in these poems comes from Zisquit’s ten­den­cy to place the quo­tid­i­an along­side the trag­ic. In Everything’s Falling Into Place,” the speaker’s own thoughts, the rhythm in my head,” trig­gers the hor­ror of fresh-dug / graves.” Zisquit does the neat trick of push­ing her poems beyond the bound­aries of dai­ly life even as she roots her poems with­in dai­ly life. There is a con­tin­u­al move­ment below, beneath, the sur­face of life. As she writes in Signs,” But what I see is not what I know. / What I hear is not what I believe.”

The poems in the book’s first sec­tion, Or,” are short, free verse lyrics; the sec­ond sec­tion is com­posed pri­mar­i­ly of ghaz­als, which, as Zisquit explains in a notes” sec­tion at the end, is a Per­sian, Arab, and Urdu form, tra­di­tion­al­ly a love lyric with a refrain and rhyme scheme unit­ing dis­junc­tive cou­plets.” Zisquit’s touch isn’t as light here as it is in the oth­er two sec­tions, per­haps because of the restraint of the form. Many of the ghaz­als use the repeat­ed refrain as their title, too, which can feel like overkill. One of my favorite poems in this sec­tion is one that nods at, but freely flouts, ghaz­al con­ven­tions: Not a Ghaz­al.” This poem seems to be an invi­ta­tion: the poems that fol­low it are in free verse, includ­ing a beau­ti­ful Song” in mem­o­ry of Robert Cree­ley, the leg­endary Black Moun­tain School poet who died in 2005: A girl in Buf­fa­lo again / I read your poems / your vio­lent love / like a fist in my brain // open­ing opening.”

Porous,” the book’s final sec­tion, con­sists entire­ly of a long poem that walks a tightrope bril­liant­ly — a bru­tal­ly emo­tion­al tale of lost love told with gor­geous lyri­cism. With short, num­bered sec­tions, white space, and frag­ments, the poem evokes the cut­ting and col­lag­ing work of remem­ber­ing and for­get­ting: frag­ments are bet­ter / than the whole / to start remem­ber­ing,” as she writes in one sec­tion. And again, the poet reminds us of how deep the dai­ly can be, rig­or­ous­ly seek­ing mean­ing with­in rou­tine: What is rep­e­ti­tion if not a chance / to change — // for Job it was renew­al / of all he would not curse.” In this learned, wise, and accom­plished col­lec­tion, Zisquit turns the dai­ly on its head, find­ing renew­al where oth­ers might see only repetition. 

Relat­ed Content:

Lucy Bie­der­man is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of cre­ative writ­ing at Hei­del­berg Uni­ver­si­ty in Tif­fin, Ohio. Her first book, The Wal­mart Book of the Dead, won the 2017 Vine Leaves Press Vignette Award.

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