The Aviary of Voices by Karin Lessing

What especially interests me about Karin Lessing’s In the Aviary of Voices is that it is exceedingly sparse on the page, and nonetheless has such emotional complexity. The poetic vocabulary Lessing uses seems almost anticipatable. Shadows and nights abound, light and ghosts and stars and heavens, trees, leafs and seeds. A lot of description of night and light. And the love-relationship that exists seems almost too easy (“breath / our breath”, “your / life / branches / to choose among” “in sleep / we touch). Except that these exhausted poetic images become renewed doubly by their positioning on the page, that they seem to float out of the whiteness, out of the silence, as the only possible word that could exist in that moment (an effect of often appearing as the only word on a line), and by what happens when they’re followed with utterly unexpected shifts in the poem:

oily with kisses

here, too

our lips


The sentimental element is so unaffected here, so meager, and yet so emphasized because there is so little else detracting from it, or mitigating it, or apologizing for having feelings, or using irony to show that she’s embarrassed about it. The sentimentality of the poem exists suspended, proffered, it seems, as it was experienced: strangely, with a kind of purity about that strangeness.

That’s another thing that works really well, and I think is another feature of the spare, tenuous positioning of the language on the page. The strangeness doesn’t seem forced, heavy-handed, or obvious. It is actually unexpected, rather than intentionally unexpected. There seems to be a kind of joint discovery she engages me in as a reader, a discovery of the strangeness so genuine and almost simple.

the wide

dress, the

of stars

in which
you walked


The final thing I want to say about this exquisite little book is the way the words seem to emerge, spilling out and down the page. The pacing of these poems is remarkable. The stuttering, searching quality reminds me of the kind of slow, considered, insightful speaking of someone with something particular to say. The particularity, and the unaffected yet lyric language is just so delightful to me.

in sleep
we touch, in

its trough

if I                   could say to you

‘this was the glass, this

infused word-




I wish this book weren’t out of print. I wish it weren’t so expensive to own a copy. I wish I could letterpress print the above excerpt on a broadside, because I think it’s so beautiful and that’s how I want to engage with it, in its element, on the printed page.

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