Sometimes life forces us to bear witness on behalf of humanity. For a poet to rise to that challenge fully—mind keen, heart open, words ready to serve—is a gift to us all. Lissa Kiernan’s book is ahead of its time, a tragic and lucid banner leading us into the 21st century when poets will increasingly be called on to remind us that we are human animals whose fate is held in the earth.
Lissa Kiernan’s brave enterprise—to pick up, barehandedly, and then set down on the page such hot wires as abuse, rape, infertility, sex, cancer, death, and radioactivity itself—is one that might make less resourceful poets blanch, burn out, flee in despair, or fall flat on their metaphoric faces. To transform this material into poetry requires serious poetic chops and this poet’s got them. She also has great heart, so she is able to wring out true sentiments without lapsing into sentimentality and able to avoid sensationalizing where what’s called for is the merely sensational. Her poems are sensational, which is to say sophisticated, darkly funny, inventively shaped, and full of tremendous tensions between the said and the unsaid.
Lissa Kiernan’s *Two Faint Lines in the Violet* smartly takes its title from Marie Curie’s description of radium. Kiernan gently limns the lines of daughter and father, exploring shades of fallibility between the two and how one’s illness deepens, sometimes painfully, sometimes with beautiful discoveries, the other’s life. The relations between them resonate within the poet’s simultaneous explorations of city, lover, and the electricity of life.
“Erratum, Last Line, Final Stanza” and “Recipe for Yellow Cake” are two of the strongest poems I’ve read this year, and the wonderful Two Faint Lines in the Violet contains a host of other fine pieces that merge the personal and the political in zany and utterly moving ways.
In Kiernan’s stellar debut collection, Two Faint Lines in the Violet, vulnerability is radioactive. O reader, O radiant child, from what deft undergrowth, shade secrets: “errant green/tendril misfired…” “no guillemot but its wings…” tread lightly this threshold, where truth’s dispersals are spread raw, exquisite.
A tragic and lucid banner leading us into the 21st century . . .