Like Jacob Shores-Argüello’s poem a few years back, Lisa Spaar’s “Undressing Myself at the End of Autumn” gives equal parts pleasure and pause.

These are some of my favorite poems to come across, since they serve to carve high-relief digits in one’s aesthetic.

While there is plenty striking in Spaar’s poem (the opening image is lavish to me, as is ‘the salted socket of my shed tooth’), no single image has a moment to breathe. Note the myriad adjectives or adjectival phrases doing heavy labor, and nearly always to the detriment of meaning: ‘unfurnished attic of trees,’ ‘winter’s glittering liens,’ ‘dusked crest of Suicide Hill,’ ‘the mirror of lost day/a blunt gold tare, low roof of sky’ (all emphases mine)—and that’s in the first eight lines. Like the case of “Crimea, An Unexpected Freeze,” only readerly suspicion follows from this kind of overworked verbiage. It’s an unhappy meeting: the desire to indulge in Spaar’s sumptuousness is checked by a sense that nothing is actually happening here. Why modify a location named ‘Suicide Hill’ any further? Has much been done to help the already rich ‘candelabra of my lungs’ by intimating that alveoli make an ‘unfurnished attic of trees’ (if I’m parsing this correctly—but, in any case, an unfurnished attic of trees?)? And I outright impugn ‘winter’s glittering liens’ as sonic indulgence. 

Let me clarify: soaring poems are obviously to be made from pure meditation (one thinks of more poems than he can mention—the bulk of Dickinson, Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death,” Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” nearly the entire 500-line body of Shelley’s “Adonais”), but something must ‘happen’ in the method of the poetic mind that merits attention; in “Adonais,” for example, we run through history’s living shudder at the loss of Keats. Allowing for the possibility that my imagination lacks scope in review of Spaar’s poem, I’m just not sure a missing tooth is to be imaginatively related to a ‘bruising abyss.’ And thus I process ‘I could not say/what the world wanted from me,//but I felt its hold’ with far less generosity than I’d like, and the ‘jealous soul’ bit with far too much snicker.

And, more importantly, I end up not being sure whether this ‘meditation’ amounts to more than a collection of oft-respelendent minutiae.

‘Amounts to’ makes a great deal of difference; what I appreciate about “Undressing Myself at the End of Autumn” is its clear attempt to speak relevantly, and with something like urgency. I may not buy that the speaker’s bones sit in ‘quilted swaths of wool,’ or that ‘jealous soul’ is the best way to characterize this speaker’s interiority or in-moment emotion. But inability to ‘see oneself’ is here; ‘longing’ reverberates; and the ‘longing to disrobe’ is in good faith, far less sexy (and thus far less easy) than it might be.

After workshop time with Spece has passed, Spaar may say that her sensibility is more plush than mine, or that ‘oft-resplendent minutiae’ are the blocks with which she chooses to craft. What we will agree on is that—whatever its level of success—her moment in autumn is fit to the form of poetry.