Can a book so attached to death be filled with so much life? The answer is yes and Bestiary proves it! It is focused also on form and light and wonder; a fine song of praise to living things. All praise to this brave poet and these brave poems!
With Bestiary Elise Paschen comes into her own strength as a poet, taking on the two great subjects of lyric poetry, love and death. This volume beautifully contains its opposites: it is at once the story of a young couple building their family and the story of a daughter losing her parents, as well as a more mythic undertaking, a tale of the animals who symbolize our psyches and seem to foreshadow events in our human lives. One feels Paschen’s Osage roots in these poems where she makes the deepest emotions palpable through her stunning craft. In Bestiary Elise Paschen creates a world at once recognizable and strange, lyrical and fierce, gentle and bold.
Elise Paschen’s themes are human and essential: love and gestation and birth, the decline of parents in old age and in her skilled hands, these matters seem far from ordinary. Often her poems engage us with stories, some taken from myth Leda beset by Zeus in swan’s clothing, a mad Irish princess tamed by a harp player. Others seem drawn from experience, whether actual or imaginary: a woman thrown to the ground by a whirlwind, a family rescuing a fallen nestling, an aged and afflicted mother recalling her youth as a dancer in Venice, a daughter transporting a father’s ashes through airport security. Here are powerful lines, gracefully woven into whole poems, positioned to last. Certain of them will haunt you. Read the lovely and mysterious “Monarch,” first poem in the book, and right away you’ll see what I mean.
X. J. Kennedy