February 27, 2007

Catriona O' Reilly on Gwyneth Lewis

“Gwyneth Lewis’s ‘Zero Gravity opens with a remarkably distinguished sixteen-part title sequence. The poem is subtitled ‘A Space Requiem’ and commemorates three events, the space-voyage of an astronaut cousin, the arrival and departure of a comet, and the death of a close relative. Lewis’s formal skill is in evidence as she brings these occurrences into a meditative tension in which the astronaut’s still-miraculous endeavour is compared to the unkowability of a woman’s death:

Her voyage is inwards.

Now looking back

is a matter of passing events.

She makes for the dark

of not being human.

“The poem’s strength lies in its intelligence and unflinching emotional honesty, which is too rigorous to permit easy consolations. In Section 11 Lewis writes:

Its vapour trails

mimicked our voyage along ourselves,

our fire with each other, the endless cold

which surrounds that burning. Don’t be fooled

by fireworks. Its no accident that leave

fails but still tries to rhyme with love.

“Among the many impressive features of Lewis’s work is a directness which is tempered by instinctive formal ability and an engaging quirkiness of vision. Her unsentimental animal poems are a fine example of this, particularly the unassuming but remarkable little poem ‘Prayer for Bandy’ which in its impact must rival anything Theodore Roethke produced. Lewis is unafraid to deploy a whole spectrum of feeling and has all of the technical gifts to do it. Her wit in such poems as ‘Will and the Wall’ is sophisticated and immensely enjoyable, as is her frequent use of the couplet, employed to fine effect in the satirical ‘hermits’:

It drives me wild,

so crowded are these blessed isles

with would-be saints who all deny

the flesh in more outrageous ways.

I want to be indifferent as stone.

I demand to be holy all on my own.

“Zero Gravity is a worthy successor to Lewis’s first English-language collection, Parables and Faxes. We await her third with impatience.”

From O’Reilly, Caitriona: ‘Reviews: Possibilities of Vision’. PN Review (Manchester) (25:4) [March-April 1999] , p.79-80. Literature Online.

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