A Review in Questions: Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman (Alice James Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Crystal Condakes
A note from the author on the form: One of the things I love about this collection of poems is the frequent questions it asks. At their core these poems say: It’s okay to have questions, to question. Reading these poems made me wonder, and the wondering became questions of my own.
Does anyone still take Lithium? Why odes? Why Neruda? What is a Knife-Flower? And who calls their grandmother by her first name? Beatrice. It’s a nice name. Why does it matter that the psychiatrist is pregnant? And why capitalize psychiatrist? It’s just a job. Knived sharper, Yes. Doused in electricity, Yes. Why have I never thought of blood as human sap before? If Lithium’s the teacher what are the lessons? Oh, I see. I am not… I am not…I am not…natural as the moon. Are you leaning your head out the window for real? Can I catch wind in my teeth, too? Is every grape a globe to you? Why break sorrow at so-? What does the sea need? Do these spaces makes regular poems into experimental poems?
I ask myself this: Am I experiencing something new? An ode is meant to be sung. Shall I sing all 87 pages? Even the Notes? Even the Acknowledgements? How did you know about the army of almost? I thought that was a secret. We must be sisters or cousins, related in some brain way. Tell me about this fuck of rivers. Am I also sweetened sweat? O, Seroquel. O, Risperdal. O, Abilify. Why does this drawing of a face have no eyes? What is it about bees and poets, that no one can separate the two? O, Margot! I want to be tall with story. Suddenly, I want to own insects. Can you teach me? The bugs, do they cover your brain? Is this about the snakes in your arms? Is this about self-talk and the power of kindness? Should I re-read Wallace Stevens? Boiling and frozen, huh? Foliage and breath? I can see that. If I understand the lines: But the thing about “I’m sorry”/ when you’re hearing it from a phone booth/ in a neon hallway of a mental hospital, is that it doesn’t really/ mow your lawn, it doesn’t really cut your steak, will I be a better mother? Red, yellow. Red, orange, yellow, green. I see what you’re doing. Blue sky and finally, purple lips. Moving on to rose. What if aftertaste didn’t have a bad connotation? What if we flipped the script on that just by asking the question? Was Daveen wrong to hope? Wrong to say out loud what she hoped for? Would it be wrong for any of us? What does it mean to be salted? Are you aware of the connection between salt and magick? Does starting at the end make it easier for you? “The Watchman” says, Yes, it’s ok to be hopeful. Wait…is there a way to make friends even if you’re not perfect? My family hails from Zoloft. You? You are screaming at a freight train. Backslash. Backslash, as far as the eye can see. Why didn’t you tell him? What are you not telling me? I prefer choosing terror to a terror I didn’t choose. Who says that? How can you be so sure? Is it ok to imagine? Is it ok to name myself whatever I want? Chloe is a name I like, too. Can needles ask questions? Can poems answer them? Can poets? You are also familiar with darkened halls and soft robes? Maybe we were meant to be friends on paper? Does it help, saying things and then crossing them out? If I say: Getting dressed is hard sometimes, will you feel understood, too? How can you think about jellyfish at a time like this? Can I be one of us? I am. And now I know. Thank you with sledgehammer. Thank you with headphones. Thank you with fire. Here we are at the end. O, Poet. Who is you? Who is I? To open these pages is to investigate a lonely continent and emerge less lonely.