Monday, December 19, 2011



See How We Almost Fly by Alison Luterman
(Pearl Editions, Long Beach, CA, 2010)

When Language Flies: See How We Almost Fly by Alison Luterman

See How We Almost Fly, winner of the 2008 Pearl Poetry Prize, is a delightful book full of exuberance, playful imagination, exalted language and music. As one of the poems, “Song” states:
I hear wheels clanking, all the stuff inside jingling, and very faint,
           very faint
                      very high,

                                            her song.

This is the second volume of poetry by Californian poet and playwright, Alison Luterman, who had also garnered the Cleveland State University Poetry Prize for her first collection in 2001. Compact, dynamic, funny, entertaining, and educational, these poems contain a lot of energy. The title says it all: See How We Almost Fly. The verb “fly” encapsulates it all. Even the endings of several poems refuse to stop in stilness: they continously to seek movement. Take for instance, “Honey here’s hoping / you can change your fortune / even up to the last minute” (“Ode to Las Vegas,” p. 34); “Because everything — / everything! — comes flying or fluttering or crashing / toward us with its own illogical beauty, / its already-torn wings. (“Messenger,” p. 41); “I still / want more, you know; another love, another / go-round, and in the meantime more / light, more freedom, / more music that gives the feeling of flying (“Reasons to Live,” p. 46) and…

In terms of poetic momentum, it is fast, jazzy, and at times startling. The variety of subjects is both eclectic and relevant to an informed life: it ranges from the political to the domestic, both autobiographical and fictional. Of this, the judge of the book contest, Gerald Lockins, describes it aptly in his “Foreword”: “An inner-city rooster, women’s prisons, the discovery of the supposedly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker… the willing into existence of love between unlikely mates in perishable places, adoption/motherhood as spontaneous combustion, snow, a moose who was born knowing all one needs to know to get by, African villages, the miracle/mystery of infants, quilting, massage therapy, fortune-telling cards, Literal Schmaltz, fireworks and jazz mysticism, Oakland (the Other of San Francisco) — and that only gets us to page 21.” Interestingly, despite the density and variety of themes and subjects, poems in this book are not presented in a sequenced or “thematically ordered” structure. Instead, they come together like in a gel. As the poet herself has said, “we inherit our stories / but choose how to tell them” (“Litte True Poem,” p. 22). There are many narratives, both direct and oblique, that trace different moments from the poet’s daily life, as well as records of her travel encounters all over the world. Poems run from one to the other as if following freely the voice of the narrator who travels non-stop from one place to the other, and one situation to the next. From time to time I can’t help but think of the phrase, “pleasures of disorientation” that Billy Collins once evoked in an interview. And upon this thought, I let myself go as a reader, slide down the cliff of emotions in the poems and feel the wind of their words. It is, as Luterman has hoped, an euphoric sensation of almost flying.


Fiona Sze-Lorrain's book of poetry, Water the Moon (Marick, 2010) is an Honorable Mention for the 2011 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Translations of Bai Hua, Yu Xiang and Hai Zi are forthcoming from Zephyr Press and Tupelo. An editor at Cerise Press, she is also a zheng concertist. (

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