Poetry Review: Of Beings Alone by Lissa Wolsak

lissa wolsak of beings alone
Of Beings Alone Cover, via Tinfish Press

68 Pages, Tinfish Press, 2016

Uncorrelated lexicon. I am sitting beneath a cloudy sky filled with cloudy images. By nature, the rise and fall of the breath. By nurture, the rise and fall of the breadth. How the poet comes to become; out of what sculpture is scripture born? In what pose of the body and its bodies of synapse in the outer and inner mind? An excellence. An acceleration. A reverberation. The lyric: another type of dance, another dance, typed. Balance before tripwire.

For the uninitiated to Lissa Wolsak’s extraordinary language, Of Beings Alone is the best place to begin: branches of text, spinal columns of language uprooted and splayed throbbing with a living vocabulary. That is how I have been introduced to the work of Wolsak. And no better a place than the conceptually uprooting landscape of “Eigenface.” If Wolsak’s book depends on anything, it’s a mesmerizing idea of ideas, humanism of humanity, being of being, as Wolsak defines herself:

Come from the complex and dynamical use of vectors to establish the ‘mean’ face, that is, .. the ‘face of all faces’. It could be used as an algorithm for a specific facial identification or thought of as a venue for penetrating insight into abstract and/or phenomenological human states. (from page 66)

What precedes the definition is example after example, instant after instant, of a certain presence of poetic undertaking, the need to initiate, the concepts of “face” and being and belonging. A square book with a cover featuring Allen Fisher’s drawing Lifting from Fear, opening it feels like stumbling upon the ritual, the act of the exercise, to attempt to live through the eigenface in order to tell it, to narrate its presence, its concept-as-existence.

Must come the touching

mortifying and refining

intimacy with all things

.. ill-equipt

if un-akin

if not entirely

celestial ..

(from page 15)

To stumble upon an exquisite inquiry into how we all live our lives, despite (and sometimes, in spite of) our awareness, how humanity interprets and explains, charges and witnesses, acts and reacts, feels like being positioned above glinting treasure. Wolsak’s poetry provides critical placements of ideas, of knowing, of seeking, and the effect is a sense of hovering, reader smeared and glazed over potent discoveries and magical cognition.

Inner windows and innuendos. Appreciations and appreciated examinations. Leave self and depreciation of core body away. A zip-line, a zip-tie, triples and trifles, spun or sponge: it is like lacquer, her words. Coating, craving, cradling. The evocative is that which comes as brilliance: flashbulb white, an explosion of arousal of the linguistic. The epiphany: we evolved language for tongue, tongue for language.

Permeating Ganzfeld light

even all over

as voluptuous a rapport

between intrigued peoples

paths to deep sanity

intently discern

its pre-origin

concealing itself


(from page 24)

I am reminded of my encounters with Ernst Meister not-so-distantly and the cryptic but utterly devastating series of emotional responses I had after reading the text. But with Wolsak, there is an undeniable respect and love taking place over and beyond any possible despair. The existential elements, mass of understanding, cloaked knowledge: being immersed in Wolsak’s eigenface landscape feels warm, like a known, exposed privilege, rather than a curse.

insensate gestures

on a null plane

the Eigenface

the mean

face the


of all


(from page 41)

As field or space or embodiment, the 61 pages of poems in this book are interpretable, often spread out across style, though linked through evidence of the concrete, the visual, the splice down the page, the sewn stitch of lyric. But the duration of these poems and their placement, as an evidence of flight, is balanced by the brevity of language. As aforementioned, Wolsak’s vocabulary is special indeed, holding the book up. In fact, I haven’t been as joyously challenged by the language alone since Charles Olson and David Foster Wallace.

Time-porn ..  strands us

the illusory body

its oddity

left slippery

at arm’s length

bid farewell


(from page 61)

Let me set everything aside and open up to the visceral elements of Wolsak’s language. Dear reader of this review, have you heard of “gyri”? What about “telluric”? Do you know the term “luff”? Have you ever heard “chutzpadik”? Though I might be behind the SAT champions (or OED newsletter subscribers), I do have a love of the word, and hearing words I’d never encountered before, at age 30, was fantastic. In fact, it was so fantastic I kept a record and noted 41 individual words I had been exposed to. Why ruin it for you? The book contains them, inspires and return to the dictionary, and beyond a simple, bonus pleasure as that, brings forth the gilding on the edges of the serifs ranging from page to page: never did these new words take away from the joy of the sound and feeling of the poems themselves.

I see stacks of agonies littering the curb outside a book’s agonies, which are neatly folded, positioned as magic (or science) in partitions against a wall. Visions are donned, or droned, from page to page. It is the buzz that calms the endings of the nerves that pinch and scream. Opened world of this language. Matching the mark of the humane through an exposure to capability.

piled-on agonies the


coat lingers belling

sentiently pale

our heartsinking


(from page 13)

Is it so intrinsic? Is it so inner? Is it so nature/nurture? The glean is an impressive yank from chair, a hair pull out of the moment in gray sky world I live. Here there are no circuits. There are no forests. There is a reality operating through the personally distant: new horizon, or, perhaps, frontier. New shades of color. New colors of meaning. How is it that page through and take as much of or as little of? Here the book opens and the question mark has been replaced with a period point.

Wolsak harmonizes a complex, personal poetry of the everywhere (and everything) with metaphoric linguistic compounding. The retracing of language and exploring beyond core meanings continues a Germanic trajectory and reflects a inventiveness reinforcing the subtleties of the eigenface experienced. How each term reveals itself creates a community and bonding between the many breaths on the page. The words take on shapes of existence, are living, are composing the life Wolsak has allowed for them. There is a sense of “the creator” here but it is rather empowering over enabling. An open text is an open treasure, and the words of Wolsak linger on the tongue waiting for us to speak them.

monopolies pacific

or success as incognizant &

obsequious failure

gluts of misseen


(from page 30)

You can learn more and/or purchase Of Beings Alone directly from Tinfish Press here.

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