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Black Swan (Pitt Poetry Series) Paperback – November 24, 2002
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—Michael S. Harper
From the Back Cover
"This is simply a terrific book. Reading it brings heartbreak and pleasure."-Marilyn Nelson
"A series of dramatic portraits: a Florida landscape too hot to touch, the mother's Pentecostal Old Testament law of judgment, a father's recklessness in the mindless spreading of seed, male malingering with no meaningful work, and little instruction by example: enough gravity and cunning in these roads to reflect and illuminate the 'roads' we live (and die) on. Ecstatic lyric, ritual grace under extreme pressure, realized."-Michael S. Harper
"Imagine Leda black-" begins Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's exciting and powerful collection of poems. Mixing vernacular language with classical mythology, modern struggles with biblical trials, she gives voice to women past and present. Whether recalling last night's angry words or reliving a child's lost innocence, Black Swan is filled with pain and loss, with hope and the promise of salvation.
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Her collection of poems in Black Swan explores identity. Van Clief-Stefanon is bold in her examinations, paralleling a coat of black spray paint to her black skin in "1. Brass Room". Her poems are simple yet thoughtful. One of my favorite poems 11:11 am reads to me like a prayer, "The first tree to change stopped you again in the bathroom this morning. Weeks you watched it turn: yellow, then fiery; brown too soon. Water running through copper pipes heating the house drowned out the sound of the creek below... Don't waste this wish."
Van Clief-Stefanon has mastered the art of juxtaposition between gripping imagery into undressed, real questions of identity. Her transitions are subtle enough to preserve the softness she so freely through her words, yet her deep poem parallels create beautiful contrasts in which she sews questions of identity.
Van Clief-Stefanon's words are chilling and truthful. In Groove, she talks of her fear of dirty dancing with men, "I pressed my palms against my partners back, pulled myself into his chest, close enough to wear my body into scar."
Van Clief-Stefanon even finds truth in the life of a night dancer, exploring the loneliness of living as a faceless individual.
Van Clief-Stefanon, through her brave questiong, pieces together the many beauties of life. And for this Black Swan will continue to be my bookshelf treasure.
A stimulating read, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon blends Classic Greek and Biblical narratives into her own poetry much like Derek Walcott's "Omeros," but without creating an overarching epic narrative. Whether Dinah, Daphne, the Concubine from Judges nineteen, or Helen, Van Clief-Stefanon dives into what it means to be a woman who speaks.
If you've got an ear, you'll appreciate the poems. If you've got any familiarity with mythology or Biblical stories, you'll appreciate the mind behind the poems as well.
So much of what good poetry should be is here: different voices and rhythms, familiar stories told from different angles, small sensory details forced into the foreground, pain, passion, hope, explorations of form...all without self-important posing, political posturing or self-righteous sermonizing.
Get it and read it.