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October 13, 1985|TOM CLARK

KISS THE SKIN OFF by Lyn Lifshin (Cherry Valley Editions: $15, hardcover; $6.50, paperback). Poet Lyn Lifshin's "Kiss the Skin Off" appears to be a collection of two decades' work; some of the poems are recent, others date back as far as the '60s. Lifshin's hard-eyed realist approach, however, is consistently and distinctly '80-ish throughout. The title is appropriate. This is poetry absolutely without padding: a swift, sharp, stripped-down, straight-from-the-hip discourse, with few metaphors, only the most basic adjectives and almost no rhetorical fooling-around. There are poems about poetry readings, a smothering mother, and other subjects, but sex is the main theme here. Lifshin writes of a world where men and women approach each other on what looks to be a collision course--but then, once body juices have been exchanged, end up "each/ in our own boat/ in the night/ dots on a/ Seurat painting/ that seem to but/ really don't touch." "Kiss the Skin Off" comes advertised as winner of the 1984 Jack Kerouac Award, a prize given by the press. This information, prominently displayed on the back cover, creates an ironic backdrop for the work. The sexual candor of Jack Kerouac's writing does indeed provide one possible prototype for poems like these; but Kerouac's deep fear and distrust of women (other than his mother) would certainly not have been much allayed by them.

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