Poetry and Hope: Liane Strauss

I had dinner on Sunday night with London-based New York born poet Liane Strauss, author of Leaving Eden, (Salt 2010) and Frankie, Alfredo (Donut Press, 2009). Liane has published widely in the US and UK including  The Hudson Review, The Georgia Review, Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner and Magma. She teaches literature and creative writing at Birkbeck College, The Poetry School and The City Literary Institute.


See here the late Michael Donaghy’s take on Strauss’s poetry:


So what did we two misplaced New York women writers discuss on a rainy so-called summer’s evening in London: poetry and hope.  Where does it come from and do we need more of it?  Is false hope better than no hope?  Isn’t the act of writing itself an inscription of hope, hope writ large or small (depending on the form) that grows out of a belief both in one’s own voice and ability to craft that voice into art, and in the possibilty that your the invitation to the reader will be accepted. 

The process of submission for publication of one’s writing, of course, is another act of faith.  As Liane reminded me “it is out of your control.  Your job is to concentrate on the work. That is what matters,” and the ability to continue to do so in the face of criticism, or worse yet, indifference, is perhaps the central tenet of the artist’s creed: self-belief, hope in one’s power to create something original, something that matters, something that says something that needs to be said in a new and perhaps shocking or shockingly beautiful way.

In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, when the chips are down and the cupboards are bare and all seems lost and empty and hopeless, Marmee tells her girls to “Hope and keep busy,” and it is nice to know that writing women are still there to offer the same solace to one another.

I offer you this poem of Liane’s, and its shockingly beautiful evocation of hope.

It’s Never Too Early for a Clean Slate

I’m blinking in the blank white light off the blinding sheets.
The voice beside my head has seen more of the world already
and it’s not even 7. She reassures me like a baby,
but I’m 42 if I’m a day, and I need to hear the forecast,
which I still haven’t learned has nothing to do with the weather.

The next 12 hours are playing like a film on the bathroom mirror.
I’m the atheist at the baptism, looking forward to lamb chops:
I merely survey the experience; my heart’s not in it.
When I release my grip the living end reverses into the tube.

And here is my first tall cup. It scalds
my gums, the parapets and vaults of my mouth,
and you’re talking to me in the native tongue
which was my own once, set like type,
or handprints in cement, as near second nature as Mother Nature,
but today I can’t make heads nor tails of anything you’re saying,
although I remain convinced if only I would try a little harder,
apply myself with more stick-to-itiveness,
I’ll be able to save you, or be myself saved,
from what, from the look in your eyes, is
some not-so-new or even unforeseeable disaster.
But then I realize I can’t even hear myself think,
that I’d need earplugs and a pneumatic drill
just to get through the words. And even your eyes
don’t hear me when, out of time, ideas and desperation,
I semaphore in my own dead language, remembering my father
telling me never to fall in love with a foreigner
or in the middle of the night he’d curse me.

But it’s only first thing in the morning,
and not the first time, by my troth,
I’ve failed to seize (let alone shuck) a pearl of wisdom
cast like an aspersion before me and time to go,
so I wave goodbye, which I see is an ambiguous
as well as an ambidextrous gesture. But at the same time
I also can’t see. And what choice do I have?
I don’t have two right hands, and we’re at the crossroads
of the breakfast table – the coast being clear, the toast being cold –
and I unbolt the chain, let slip the wards of God,
(or Whoever it is Whose gates these are) and,
tossing precaution and my only set of keys into the hedge,
I notice that it really isn’t too early yet,
and I’m brimming with hope, which has its disadvantages.

Liane Strauss, 2010, copyright Salt Publishing

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