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SIRENS' SONGS by Elisabeth Stevens Kirkus Star

SIRENS' SONGS

By Elisabeth Stevens

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1935916031

A compact yet thematically and stylistically wide-ranging verse collection that contains lyrical and nuanced explorations of love, power, impermanence and aging.

The sea washes through this collection, not as a fixed symbol, but rather as something as capricious and mutable as life itself. Its currents may represent irresistible forces of attraction (“Siren’s Song”); its depths, the generative source of life (“The Mermaid’s Tale”); its tides, the vicissitudes of aging (“I’d Hate to See My Love Grow Old”); and its unyielding forces, a threat to reclaim what it has birthed (“The Sea Dance,” “First Marriage”). Out of fear, love or simply wonder these narrators hold fast to the sight of the sea, by turns flailing to escape its currents or submersing themselves in its solemn, primordial metaphors. Not surprisingly for a volume drenched in superlatively feminine associations, these poems have much to say about gender issues and the burdens and triumphs of femininity. There are unabashed celebrations of sexuality, such as in “Doughnut Man,” which conflates several sensory pleasures, and even frightening glimpses of a woman who kills dispassionately the man she loves in “The Crime.” But there are also threats to the female body and psyche as in “First Marriage” where the narrator flatly acknowledges that “He fucks to kill,” or in “Mustache Man” in which the narrator “couldn’t stop laughing / until one man walked right through me, / followed by another, and another. / Then, as the tide rose and the sun sank, / they trampled me into the dark, wet sand.” In exploring the crimes perpetuated on the female body and heart, Stevens (Ragbag, 2010) occasionally resembles Sharon Olds, though without the sustained brutality and conceptual density. While the poems suggest a world of both empowered and victimized women, where the men are as likely to be the sirens as not (“The Steel Pier”), her accompanying illustrations, simple line sketches, tend to portray women in almost comically erotic terms, but always with a hint of elemental wildness to them, suggesting that they can never be victimized for long.

A triumphant and eloquent collection that never shies away from the emotional and intellectual entanglements of love and lust, connection and manipulation, the momentary and the eternal.