March in San Miguel
OWEN LEWIS
reviewed by KASEY ERIN

Finishing Line Press, 2012
Owen Lewis's debut poetry collection is an exercise in longing: longing for touch, for shreds of remembrance of those we loved, and the intricacies of life we miss in our hurried existence. Filled with dream-like visions, Lewis paints his world for us out of the beauty found in mourning, and his own re-imaginings of relationships and family. His gifted knack for sound and sensory images make March in San Miguel a hauntingly beautiful portrait of lessons learned from love, loss, and memory.

Each poem its own small life, Lewis brings us through the secret lives of paintings in "Van Gogh's Goodbye" and "The Place of the House of Flowers," epigraphed the Garden of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. He shares his moving "Elegy" for a loved one, leads the reader by hand through the paradoxically-clear haze of memory, through moments whose "Messages" we may have nearly missed: "Drawer ajar, a rumble of socks, / shirt arms hang free. / A window rattles itself open. / Pines shed into the room." Simple languages reminds us of the small experiences of humanity we too often fail to notice.

One of Lewis's greatest strengths is the careful selection of each word right down to the syllable, the meticulous attention to sound and to the way a words feels in the mouth as it makes its shape. The opening poem, "Surviving," begins,


My hands open. The bird-spirits perched on my palms
take flight.

How quickly they merge with blue, ruse with breath, rejoin
in wing-beat my children.


Not a single word goes to waste, each rich with unspoken meaning to remind the reader of the significance of substance in poetry as the sharing of experience. Each line makes space for intense and vibrant imagery that demands the attention of the senses. Color, in particular, leaves behind the impression of a skilled artist's hand dabbing the palette:


An indigo sky this June
when the yellow planet moon rose over the pines
taking color from distant gardens
and somewhere shining pink,
creeping dianthus overflowed a stone wall
and filled the air with the sweet cinnamon of an Indian
spice market--


"Recompense" is startlingly synesthetic, not as in mixed-up senses but as the rush of hue, scent, and texture so simultaneous they cannot be separated. These features brought me so deeply into the poem that at its close, I found myself caught in the last line, needing a moment of breath to find my way out of the scene.  

Though it occasionally appeared that Lewis sacrificed clarity of meaning for vibrance of language,  each poem unearthed new layers of meaning with further reading, as if entry to the book revealed itself in shades. Just as in his poem "The Lost Museum," this stunning first collection invites the reader into fascinating rooms of thought and feeling where "touching everything is allowed."

KASEY ERIN's poetry has appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, the Susquehanna Review and elsewhere. She is currently a student of Creative Writing and Sociology at Eastern University and, come fall, will be an MFA candidate in a soon-to-be-determined location.