Monday, December 19, 2011



The Homelessness of Self by Susan Terris
(Arctos Press, Sausalito, CA, 2011)

Susan Terrris' The Homelessness of Self is a deftly woven reckoning of self set adrift from its past, its relationships, its sense of place. It seeks to ask over and over "Who am I? Where am I going?" while acknowledging that "(t)o find yourself, you first must lose it/in ever-smaller concentric circles."

In the opening section, we encounter a recurring pond image which coincides with girlhood reckonings. The pond motif acts as a symbol of fertility, birth and rebirth, and sexual maturation--"Girls' print dresses/slick with pond scum." Terris' images are both stunning and purposeful as in this image of initiation-- "The pond undams/Furrows flood. Then girl, a mud-dark/silhouette against the sky." We also encounter several "sting and stun"s of bees--also instigators of fertility and sexual maturation, as well as the mythic messengers of Persephone, alluding to darker undercurrents that pervade these poems, such as "the man who crosses/the trestle, dark of face, foul of breath" to spy on the "bare/white bodies" of girls sunbathing by a pond.

These poems are informed by a sense of approaching death. Terris' lines propel the reader forward with short declamatory statements, imperatives, minimal but vivid modifiers--all replicating a scramble to take stock of the self--"to mark down everything. This instant, all these/instants, clues to how she feels"--before the self becomes entirely inaccessible. "Is this why I'm here? Scrutiny of self and otherness?"

Her poems are replete with imperatives that seem less directive and more suggestive--try this, try that in order to retrieve the dream "time has faded" and the eternal desire to "(i)nhabit both bodies" at once--the present self and "the girl again." Terris creates tension in word play--reflections that are "ripped, and rippled" prove both imagistic and metaphoric. Or the schism that erupts in the question "why other instead of mother?" Terris' wordplay can demonstrate a wit that is at once playful and weary, aptly defining a speaker who sees the ageing body as a "cardboard jigsaw/where more and more pieces go missing," who sees parts of life as a trompe l'oeil--"the flowers have no scent, grapes no taste,/windmill or willow won't shift in the wind," and who understands in certain relationships "some ruins cannot be rebuilt."

Terris offers us striking, original images--"as/cumulus slowly bandage blue," "their night bodies inked in dampness," "Falling birds as white scraps of paper." She weaves into her poems nursery rhymes, fairy tales, ancient myths and board games--"this murder was not done with a candlestick/in the dining room"--as a method to bring forward familiar images of childhood, to "inhabit both bodies." Poems toward the end of the book repeat images from earlier sections as a kind of call and response. Yet for all her skill in craft, Terris' poems maintain a vulnerability that engenders trust as she seeks to ask what so many of us do/will/must--"Below the mocking surface, who is she, who was she?"


Gregory W. Randall’s chapbook Double Happiness was selected by Mark Doty for the 5th Annual Camber Press Chapbook Award. His other chapbooks include Uncommon Refrains (The Lives You Touch Publications), A Room in the Country (Pudding House Press) and, most recently, Blue Water Views (Finishing Line Press). Greg owns a financial planning practice in Santa Rosa, CA where he and his wife host the Londonberry Salon, a quarterly celebration of poetry in their home.

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