11.22.2004

Amy Newman
Camera Lyrica
alicejames books, 1999
ISBN 1-882295-24-2

In Camera Lyrica, Amy Newman defines a variety of visual lyric, a poetry where the eye is the lyric subject of the poem. The famous dictum of writer Christopher Isherwood, “I am a camera” is obliquely referred to the Camera Obscura where obscura, although in this usage generally means “dark” must surely also point to the risk of the lyric (“light”), which is obscurity.

In the first section of Newman’s book, which is about painting, the poem, “Travel Diary” carries an epigraph from Charles Wilson Peale about good painters seeing beauty in all that they see. It begins, “Just like that / the opening of an eye….” But the poem ends embroiled in a concern with alphabet, letter / figure / character, as does the penultimate poems in the book, a poem in sections, “A Brief Note on the Type.” Numbered sections are followed by sections labeled “[detail],” and the placement of this poem so close to the author’s copious notes at the end of the slim volume is no accident: the researched detail in these poems, like the appearance of letters rather than the letters themselves, stands in for true emotion, or meaning: “distorts the afternoon so Sans serif…” (p. 57) “lucky and beautiful Lithographia…” (p. 59).

The poem “Bringing Desire to the Fields” ends the book by bringing lyric metaphor to a fictional narrative from Carl Jung. While the reader is directly addressed with a confession that the writer may have fallen in love with the male character, in the last line, the woman in the story lights up like the lyric or the motive for the text:
“she lingers, lit up like a votive.” (p. 64).

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