Susan Lewis’ full-length prose poetry collection, How to be Another and her full-length poetry collection, This Visit are highly abstract, punny, and rich in carefully planned out verbiage. Her soulful words seep into the mind to linger, resonate, and repeat resoundingly, always with a fresh understanding with every read.
In How to be Another, Lewis’ prose clenches in a visceral way, right from the beginning with
is all you ever say, & I do, becoming even grimier & less enlightened” (3)
leaving an afterthought to ruminate upon:
“So far, I have unearthed no secret treasure; no new perspective; no offspring of any kind; not often the slightest touch of your hand still unsullied, impossibly smooth, irresistibly trembling hand” (3).
The overwhelmingly sarcastic tone makes these prose pieces though-provoking but easy to read again and again, like in “Say Something”:
Say the end is a beginning. Say this is a matter of life & death. Say America is just another bubble. Say a thing or two about milkweed or super-heroes, vibrations or delicious speculation. Say the proof is in the pudding. Say each moment has a life of its own. Say you never want to blink. Say you sweet-talked fear to burrow for this moment. Say you can imagine another scenario. Say you’ll pay attention. Say there’s help on the way. Say there isn’t. Say what you’d rather not. Say what you please. Just promise to listen. (21)
Relationships, death, dreaming, and perseverance are prevalent themes in both How to be Another and This Visit, but they’re also both heavily philosophical in nature, lending the pensive a line to linger on. In “The Kiss,” she describes a snowflake falling upon a boy’s eyelash as he kisses “a girl who would one day gaze out of her window at a snow shower, imagining the adventure of a snowflake whose molecules would moisten the lips of the first boy she ever kissed” (35).
This Visit contains experimental poems which play with form, line breaks, and italics, often leaving the feeling that the poems are being spoken by different voices, are whispering, or contain thoughts behind the driving force of the poems. The first poem in the collection, “My Life in Dogs” begins
what nitty gritty other has to say to me,
by which I mean memes
of sundry shape & size,
intuition of higher learning,
(give or take reluctant growls)
(sotto voce or ensnarled)
+ someone somewhere’s mother tongue
dripping its wicked victory lap—“ (13)
Each of the poems in this collection maintain this style of italicizing, parenthesizing, and line-breaking, which, at times, may seem tough to wade through. However, it’s refreshing in many of the pieces, asking the reader to dig deeper, to search for meaning in every break, every slant, every segregated thought.
This Visit and How to be Another, though one poetry and one prose poetry, are similar in themes, in thoughtfulness, and both are experimental and abstract. While I enjoyed both collections thoroughly, I was left wanting at the end of each for any semblance of a concrete image. However, overall, I think the abstractions work quite well for Lewis, and each book is worth the read. These heavy works are not to be taken lightly, and they aren’t the sort of books that can be read in one sitting. But grab This Visit and How to be Another and see what this Pushcart Prize nominee is all about.