Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Inside Room - Lisa Andrews (Indolent Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Inside Room.  Lisa Andrews.  Indolent Books.  Brooklyn, New York.  2018.

Back in July of 2017 Today's book of poetry had the pleasure of writing about Lisa Andrews' charming chapbook Dear Liz.  You can see that blog/review here:

Today's book of poetry certainly was impressed by Lisa Andrews' Dear Liz, so it comes as no surprise to us here that The Inside Room caught our full attention.  The Inside Room is one splendid poetry adventure.  We suggest you leave a trail of bread crumbs, just in case.

At one time or another we have all played with fire, most of us have been at least a small time burnt.  Lisa Andrews is no Phoenix but she sure has some glow.

Gretel in the Forest

From the moment we entered the unfamiliar place in the forest
we knew we were meant to be eaten.

Even the trees spoke of it. We tongued the salt
                          from each other's bodies,
knowing our parent wanted us

to starve. The father—nothing;
                           the brother—
useless with crumbs in his pockets.

The one I could have loved, the one
                           who watched me devour her home—
pane by pane—satisfaction almost

splitting my body in two—I pushed her in.
                           I did this: barred the door,
listened at the hinge for hours

as she screamed my name—
                            it sounded like regret, as if
she never meant the fire.


In this forest where branches fall like axes
                             I guard a single fire. Nights I pluck
a blistered lump of coal, take it

in my palm. Her embers feed on me, kiss
                             my flesh. I clasp the coal and chant the names
of all the children I have saved.

Like small towns, they talk, want to know
                             exactly what my hand is doing
tending a fire nothing can satisfy—


Lisa Andrews, like many of us, has a complicated relationship to her past and her parents.  The Inside Room is frighteningly intimate, detailing sins, incanting when necessary.  The Inside Room rides over the death of a father and the ensuing grief, all of it interlaced with a very distressing mother/daughter dynamic.  But nothing is simple in Andrews world, secrets are made and kept, dark secrets.

Lisa Andrews writes poems that pulsate with a wounded energy, that spark under the skin, that warning that tells when to run.  "None of us suffer in the dark" intones Andrews but Today's book of poetry thinks she is only being brave.


That day my mother told me,
You don't know anything
about me, I knew I couldn't touch
her either. Slippery with gin, she'd lie
on the tweed couch, a stone
goddess: headless, winged—
her shoulders chipped, an accident.

Too much of my other is visible.
All those parts that made me have turned
inside out. Her straps hang, metal clasps
click and swivel, murmur, Undo me,
but somebody's already gone
and done it. I am extraneous.

Oh Mother, my first museum—
how you matter to me. If only
you were half as delicate
as you seem.

Doors, locks, keys,
you open and shut—a hinge
I must have lifted once, flown
out of your body, an exhibit—
a girl you couldn't take back.

Oh Mother, the lights
are out, the statues asleep,
the paintings hang.


Lisa Andrews starts The Inside Room with this quote:

     "With her it was like there was two places—the inside room
       and the outside room."
                                              CARSON MCCULLERS
                                              The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

In her chapbook Dear Liz that clever and consistent Andrews started the action off another Carson McCullers quote:

     "And how can the dead be truly dead when they still
      live in the souls of those who are left behind?
                                                CARSON MCCULLERS
                                                The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Nothing is by mistake.  Andrews is stating her intentions.  Like our much admired Carson McCullers, Andrews glows with a considerable portion of that southern dark and Gothic gloss.  It is a sensibility familiar with the weight of loss.

Andrews' The Inside Room builds on itself like a fairy tale rich with doom.  But just like McCullers, whom Today's book of poetry considers a truly great writer, Andrews creates a rich tableau in front of every one's fall from grace.  There are ghosts in these poems singing dirges just beyond our range.


I liked it when he took me here.
My own flower with a hundred blooms, my own
chariot to hell.

My mother's a river now. Protected from the sun,
I swim in her silver-pillared caves. The dead I rule
are happy here. None of us suffer
in the dark.

How five o'clock would come, the way you closed
black curtains and said, Thank God that's over—
Sometimes I think you made me
just for this.


It took a bit of effort but we found it, Today's book of poetry found a slice of hope in Lisa Andrews' The Inside Room.  Family can weigh heavy on the shoulder and Andrews is willing to loose her demons in the hopes of touching her angels.

The Today's book of poetry gang remembered Dear Liz with some affection, Maggie, our newest intern, went and got it out of the stacks.  Our morning read clattered around the office with Saturday morning enthusiasm.  The Inside Room takes you travelling into Lisa Andrews world, back to your own family too.  Not all great rides leave you smiling, hope comes in all sorts of disguises.

Lisa Andrews


Lisa Andrews is the author of The Inside Room (Indolent Books, 2018) and Dear Liz (Indolent Books, 2016). Her poems have appeared in Gargoyle, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Zone 3. Andrews holds a B.A. from Hunter College, and an M.A. in English literature and M.F.A. in creative writing (poetry) from New York University, where she taught in the Expository Writing Program, and worked with poetry students at Goldwater Hospital and Bayview Correctional Facility. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Tony Geiger.



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