The Errant Thread
by Elline Lipkin
Kore Press 2006
Reviewed by Scott Hightower
Fury Presses Intelligence
Elline Lipkin has just come forward with her first book. It is a beautiful book, artfully honed; Lipkin, poetically speaking, is a class act. The poems are elegant in their style while restrained in their deployment. A rare balance of said, enough said, and taste. But before moving into specific features of The Errant Thread, allow me a couple of brief asides.
Literature is crowded with figures of anger. Most are fiery and self-righteously reactionary. Many a poem is a rant and vent. Many are full of irony and half-baked “Saturday Night Live” humor and artless wit. In many, sensationalism becomes a strategy. Fury is a dish—not often, but in many developmental cases—best served cold.
Literature is also crowded with figures of the instinctive journeys of children from obedience to equality and self-reliance. Often disobedience, or at least a balk, if not an outright refusal, is a part of the story. A child—no matter the degree of privilege or disenfranchisement—must find its way beyond the covenant of childhood to the promises of a more mature life. False starts, epiphanies, harsh moments of self-awareness, harsh measures of others, obvious parallels, betrayals and affirmations are all a part of the process—are all the stuff of experience. Blake is pretty good—and merciless—on the subject: “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”
In poetry it is not unusual to find a first book positioning the speaker of the work in the romantic position of meditating through the formalization of the poet’s own self. Sometimes disguised. Sometimes not so disguised. The real guise being that of the journey into the art form itself.
Among other things, The Errant Thread is a book positioned on refusal, expressing anger and wonder. It is more specifically the prayers of a daughter. The theme is Fury, but the poems themselves are deployed apollonically; the level of restraint and artfulness is high. The poet, unapologetic.
Lipkin steers her poems clear of flash and edge and fashionable displays of irony. Instead, her poems root and risk themselves in meaning and relationships. The poems locate themselves in France, Belgium, Rwanda, the United States. Philomela, Hebe, Athena, Thumbelina, Grimm’s The Maiden Without Hands, Snow White, the gift of an Elgin watch, caged birds, Miss Havisham and Estella all put in brief appearances.
The poems also locate themselves in the terrain of Will and Compliance, not as high in profile as perhaps a Thell, Antigone, or Catherine Holly (“Suddenly Last Summer”), three figures, daughters, involved with earthing and unearthing the truth of their situations. Recall how Catherine Holly confesses her inability to express the thread of poetry?
Of the three, only Blake’s Thell recoils to a state of “Perverted” innocence. Lipkin’s voice too is impelled through poetry to find her way forward. The first poem of the collection––peppered with ”spinsters” and “thread,” punctuated with “pattern” and “history”––opens entitled: “My Parents Meet at La Grande Place.“ The title indicates “parents,” but it is the father who foregrounds the poem:
Shop windows line the square, decorated
with endless patterns of ancient lace.
Spinsters working at their spools,
‘the last of a dying breed,’ he thinks,
their longing patterned into an intricacy
that unravels if only the smallest thread is pulled.
The second poem, one of this reviewer’s favorites in the book, features the parents’ union and foregrounds the mother. It is a prose poem, descriptive and clear. The last sentence of the poem is as artful as it is indicting in the revelation of will and motive, all the more poignant as it is framed in a clause coming from the mother herself:
Forty years later, looking at photographs and remembering what she clutched, my mother will say sweet asylum I called it all of these years.
“Wife” and “daughter” are perhaps intrinsically places of “asylum.” Perhaps likewise are the notions of “father” and “son.” One might argue so also are the notions of sonnet, epithalamion, and ars poeticas made out of lines by Dickinson.
In the collection, there are also: a lament (for a friend’s wedding), ekphrastic poems, responses, an elegy, an ode to Limoncello, a concluding envoi. In the envoi, with the body’s back to a cathedral copula, the voice concludes by soaring with identity:
To the west, the sky drops its cape
straight into the sea. A ship sews
itself into the gold lining, the horizon
a seam. You divine a new route, vow
to circumference, ply each longing
like a thread pulled through.