Keep | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

By Liane Ellison Norman
(Smoke and Mirrors Press, 93 pp.)


In the introductory poem to her new collection, Keep, Liane Ellison Norman announces she's partial to "the little / poems, no monumental / meaning, just works like / paper lanterns, holding / back the night."

Indeed, Norman strives to make her typically short poems windows on their subjects. She occasionally delves into haiku-like verse, as in "Snowy Egret": "Plumed aristocrat / in bridal white / wears orange galoshes."

Her story poems, meanwhile, concisely evoke place and personality, as in one about staying home in late pregnancy while her husband goes off to hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Like many poets, she's in good form writing about language itself. "How This Miracle Works" expands on writer David Grossman's observation that "the correct and precise use of words is sometimes like the remedy to illness." Norman adds praise for even "that government of traffic -- punctuation -- obeyed in dead of night with no one there to see."

About half the book showcases the pretty, contemplative abstract and semi-figurative watercolors and drawings of Norman's friend Ruey Brodine Morelli. But if there's little matter here to provoke any but the most illiberal sensibilities, Norman, sentimental in a good way, does often conjure deep feeling. Her understanding of grief, for instance, informs a poem about three musicians honoring the late fourth of their string quartet by leaving her part at a concert unplayed -- "her accustomed place a vacancy." The poem also exhibits Norman's lyricism, as she describes musicians who "shuttlecock with notes / as aspens shuttle light ..."

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