Book Review

Lisa Cihlar, The Insomniac’s House, dancing girl press, 2011

Reviewed by Lou Roach

Speaking in the voice of and about “Swampy Woman” in her newest chapbook,The Insomniac’s House,  poet Lisa Cihlar offers the reader a heroine like no other.  Earthy, impetuous and outrageously outspoken, “Swampy Woman” brings nonconformity to the nth degree, just because she can.

Highly opinionated, the madcap character reveals a strong feminist viewpoint, a gutsiness to be envied, and a wry sense of self.  She delivers not just smiles, but guffaws and a peculiar feeling of loyalty to the reader.  She possesses a wealth of “attitude” and a penchant for expressing her own truth with flair.

Did I say I found her to be charming in her own edgy way?  Cihlar must have grinned broadly, and often, as she constructed the whimsical, sometimes blatantly direct, words for her subject. The poet, who lives in southwestern Wisconsin, has a rich sense of humor, as well as a predilection for occasional pathos.  She combines words with a careful artfulness and creates phrases that ring in the reader’s thoughts for some time after being read.

Cihlar’s work has appeared in Verse Wisconsin, Green Mountain Review, Pedestal South Dakota Review, and a number of other publications. She appears to have a fondness for all things wild—the outdoors, the elements, aquatic creatures, fruit, vegetables, and the unexpected, especially romance.

The poet’s playfulness colors her verses with interesting vocabulary choices.  In “Wolf Moon Soon Enough,” she describes some of “Swampy Woman’s” activities:

       She seldom gets angry. Sometimes she gets
       revenge. Just for fun . . .
       . . .
       She strides down streets in a hazy blur
       of mixed pelt.  If it rains she reeks doggy.
       It is the time of the Moon of Falling Leaves
       and she scuffs in the maple gold looking
       for wooly bear caterpillars to fetch home.
       . . .
       Out her back window, a commotion of blackbirds
       across an O’Keeffe sky suddenly disappears
       into a cottonwood.  Bell-tone trill give them away.

With “Swampy Woman Conjures a Storm,” Cihlar presents a powerful rain:

       On water heavy nights when rain
       veins the windows with silver bars,
       and candles gutter at wind spurts
       under the threshold, this happens.

“Swampy Woman’s January Nights” explains how the poetic subject might cope with a bout of insomnia on a mid-winter night:

     Sitting by the hearth, lintel
     and mantle of Lake Superior green granite,
     I recollect the moss of spring. Stirring
     ramps and wild asparagus into Arborio
     rice and adding peas at the end. I eat,
     gobble, gorge. All my nightmares
     turn to ductile dreams, murmur in the dark.
     A tincture I vend from my back porch
     does the same for my neighbors.
     I’m pleased to do it.  Stir the pot,

     give them reason to break the chaste,
     back-to-back, winter bedding.  That is ahead.
     Now the sun rises.  My vision clears.
     I snuff the candle and curl like smoke.

Some of her friends seem to be as discombobulated as “Swampy” herself.  They give her strange gifts, as in “Swampy Woman on a Gift-Giving Occasion”:

      . . . . . . . . .  .   everyone
     who has shared my bed.    
     Not their names,
     but the circumstances.

     . . .
     My mechanic smells of grease
     and gasoline. He brought me a tire
     pressure gage for Valentine’s Day.
     I had sold my car . . .

     He offered to darn my cream colored
     wool sock, which I had caught on a nail
     in the wooden flooring in the kitchen.
     I said no.  When he came by again
     he brought a hammer and nail set.
     Now he feels fine when I get up
     to make coffee, wearing my holey
     sock, while he lies in bed. Another                                                                             
     man brought me a pot of rusty
     chrysanthemums once, for no reason.

Cihlar’s collection is fun to read and re-read.  For such a small book, there are enough poems to make the reader quite pleased to meet “Swampy Woman.”  Sometimes one line may segue to another a bit abruptly and occasionally line breaks are a bit puzzling, but neither of these can take away the enjoyment of discovering words like “bismaroon” or of wanting to applaud the various perspectives on aging, blessings and being true to oneself.

Read this antidote to winter and chortle!

Lou Roach is a retired psychotherapist, now living in Poynette,WI. She writes, reads, and loves spending time with family and friends. She has published poems and reviews in small-press mags. Her most recent book is For Now.