May 30, 2009

Review by Kristina Marie Darling

IT WAS A TERRIBLE CLOUD AT TWILIGHT
by Alessandra Lynch

LSU Press
Building 3005
8000 GSRI Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70820
ISBN 978-0-8071-3346-0
2008, 73pp., $16.95
www.lsu.edu/lsupress

In her second book of poems, It was a terrible cloud at twilight, Alessandra Lynch offers readers a complex understanding of childhood, in which misfortune and loss often prompt a premature transition to adulthood. Filled with barren landscapes and abandoned playgrounds, the works in this collection frequently reframe narratives like fairy tales from a mature perspective, suggesting that even the most innocent phases in one’s life can become riddled with tragedy. Eloquently conveyed through her pairing of the philosophical with the everyday, Lynch’s poetry raises fascinating questions about the place of grief in everyday life, “brooding” and “glittering” all the while.

Throughout the book, Lynch continually revisits the transition from youth to adulthood, in which she depicts a burgeoning consciousness of the possibility of loss. Frequently conveying this theme through imagery of the natural world, Lynch gracefully mirrors her speakers’ internal conflicts and realizations in descriptions of the landscapes that surround them. By situating disenchanted narrators in desolate fields and dim houses, the poems in this collection create fascinating tensions between interior and exterior, a theme that recurs as the book unfolds. These ideas are exemplified by a poem in the collection entitled “Nostalgia,” in which an adult speaker’s idealized vision of youth is conveyed through descriptions of her surroundings. Lynch writes, for example, in this poem:

The dark kicks up
its shimmer. Remember

when catch & fish
was a sentence,

glimmer took precedence
over lake

& burnish defied
the dull
skull, surpassing sheer bone? (23)

In this passage, the adult speaker expresses nostalgia for a more innocent time in her life, and, in doing so, renders the landscape she inhabited in a similarly wistful fashion. While recalling a time when “burnish defied/the dull/skull, surpassing sheer bone,” and tragedy remained a distant prospect, her surroundings take on a similarly picturesque quality. Particularly apparent in phrases like “glimmer took precedence/over lake” and “dark kicks up/its shimmer,” Lynch depicts both the scenery and the character’s psyche as being yet untouched by life, a quality that her speaker tries and fails to recapture. “Nostalgia,” like many other poems in the collection, depicts maturation from childhood to adulthood in an uncompromising and lyric manner, which often lends it itself to multiple readings.

Along these lines, Lynch renders children’s stories and fairy tales in a similar way, often reframing such narratives to mirror the changes in her speaker’s worldview, particularly those that have taken place since early youth. In doing so, the poems in It was a terrible cloud at twilight reveal such childhood memories as being riddled with incipient sorrow and looming tragedies. Particularly apparent in a piece entitled “Hanged Doll,” Lynch frequently suggests that although surrounded by dark omens, one often fails to recognize them, especially in the innocent mindset of early life. She writes, for example, in the piece:

…Memory working
this way—a sun-masked cloud, a night bird, then the sky rising
through black dawn in mist. You yours elf hung over
the white bed where you could glimpse
her human hair, the yellow stitch of mouth propped
in smile, the brown eyes jammed open, perpetually
almost pleading… (15)

As in other poems within the collection, the poem invokes landscape as a means by which to convey its speaker’s more mature worldview, in which she looks back on childhood as a state of blissful oblivion to the misfortunes inherent in adult life. Particularly apparent in her description of the children playing amidst the imposing “black dawn in mist” and an ominous “sun-masked cloud,” Lynch creates tension between the children’s idealistic outlook and the threatening environment that surrounds them. By doing so, “Hanged Doll” presents a dark and particularly complex picture of childhood, in which grief looms like a “night bird” above one’s idyllic present-day life.

In conveying these themes, the poems in It was a terrible cloud at twilight often retain a redemptive quality, in which such tragedy within and around the narrator gives way to self-knowledge and discovery. As with other themes in the collection, Lynch often conveys these realizations by projecting them onto the speaker’s surroundings, gracefully merging interior and exterior. Especially noteworthy in such poems as “Envoy,” the final work in the collection, Lynch gracefully uses everyday imagery to convey profound moments in its speaker’s inner lives. She writes, for example, in this piece:

…You were predisposed to silence then

and climbed its sheer side and walked through the gravel, through
the glass door where the dark room waited
and all the errors in your life finally curled
around you, at your feet, their bristles flat,
their eyes gold with forgiveness. (71)

By including such passages in this collection, Alessandra Lynch suggests that although a loss of innocence is often inherent in gaining maturity and wisdom, these qualities often give way to a greater understanding of one’s self and surroundings. In “Envoy,” the poet conveys this change in worldview through the “eyes gold with forgiveness” in the otherwise dark room, suggesting that even in this tragic landscape, redemption remains an ever-present possibility. As in many other poems in Lynch’s debut, this work presents a multifaceted vision of loss, youth, and maturity, proving “shimmering” and “sublime” throughout.

All points considered, Alessandra Lynch’s It was a terrible cloud at twilight is a finely crafted and meditative read. Highly recommended.

____________

Kristina Marie Darling is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, where she is currently pursuing a master’s degree. She is the author of eight chapbooks of poetry and nonfiction. Her work has appeared or will appear in The Boston Review, The Colorado Review, New Letters, The Mid-American Review, Third Coast, and other journals. Recent awards include residencies from the Vermont Studio Center and the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts.

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