August 31, 2016
Reworking lines from Pablo Neruda’s elegy for Alberto Rojas Jiménez – “you come flying / over cities with roofs under water” – Elizabeth Bishop poetically invited Marianne Moore to ‘please come flying’ over a Manhattan ‘awash with morals’ where ‘waves are running in verses.’
In her poem, ‘Please (after Elizabeth)’, Lise Downe uses that same three-word invitation and we lift off but into a much different flight. We immediately fly “out of our old arrangements”; ones that might include poetic form as well as whatever personal arrangements we might free associate.
The road sign on the cover of Lise’s book, which is inscribed with the title This Way, points in two directions at the same time. Her writing in previous books – A Velvet Increase of Curiosity, the soft signature, and Disturbances of Progress ─ has the same elusive and delightful quality of creating familiarity and disorientation at the same time. In this poem we can’t measure our flight as the crow flies; rather, we’re invited to ‘Swivel as the flow cries’, to go forth ‘unprotected’ and ‘witness the stirring of things.’
Unlike the poem after which she is writing, Bishop’s ‘Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore’, Downe has no specific reference ─ no city or river or public library. We’re flying above the uncertain ground of metaphor ─ or should we take the ‘echo of sleeves’ literally? The “small but important signs / become the most pressing.” As she says in the subsequent poem ‘Telltale Signs’, for her that happens “if / otherness is filtering through.”
In the midst of the pleasures of language, Lise Downe’s constructions of the words themselves question the usual way we use words. As she says in her epigram to the soft signature:
“All of these words have appeared elsewhere.
Only their order has been changed
to maintain their innocence.”