Furs Not Mine by Andrea Cohen; The Wilderness by Sandra Lim

Valerie Duff-Strautmann
| Reviews


Splintered in their lineations, the poems resist splintering, as
in the deft dance of idea and emotion in “Breaking and

He pinched my last
candlesticks. If he’d

asked, I’d have filled
them with fire, I’d

have packed his candlelit
supper to go, for the long,

sorry night he was entering.

And the world of each poem arrives with its own lexicon,
accessible the way Dickinson’s diction is accessible—in its fantastic
leaps from one height to another, and in a reveling in the word
on the tongue, as in the title poem, “Furs Not Mine”:

the Russians have a way of saying
what must be said, and one

need not be or speak Russian
to comprehend the sense

of furs not mine. One need only
to have known the deep cold, an inmost

Siberia made more Siberian by one
who basks nearby, oblivious in her Bolivia.


Sandra Lim, in her second collection, The Wilderness, also writes a
poetry that exists in its own worlds, soaked in their rapid associations.
The Wilderness won the 2013 Barnard Women Poets Prize,
and Lim sums up her own poems (or seems to) in “Certainty,”
which stands as an account of the life and process of early
American minister/physician Edward taylor: “Consider the
strange and riotous interior, through which so many/ nameless
things fly.” Lim’s greatest strength, which leads to these moments
of insight, is in the glowing freshness of her metaphors, and her
willingness to let them act as linchpins for deeper truths, as in

Each night, the same dream: I’m an odd Victorian mansion
in a field of wheat. And I’m either waiting for the field
to catch fire or the hearse of love to pull up to the manse.
Don’t wake me. In daylight, my mother talks of brideliness
as a measure of time: in a kind of flower, a narrative of ascension.
I intimate some sort of border is being discussed,
but I can’t concentrate for the sake of all the beautiful things
claiming my attentions in the tawny fields.
there’s a blankness without meanness, such as one finds
in a naked sea with all its fundamental majesty.

Her penetrating insights sometimes rest on biblical allusion
(“Lazarus woke to the miracle of no longer fearing failure”),
sometimes on the world of the senses (“the coffee all boiled out
in the kitchen/the birds dead at the bottom of their cages”), and
sometimes on her own quirky methods of being in the world
(“Feeling atonal and unconciliatory,/I went to see The Rite of

Lim creates a vantage point from which we’re willing to lean
in, even risk being consumed, if it means we get to be part of this
world for a while. through the poems’ masks, she longs to come
close to the heat of things despite danger—to be that heat (from
“Conversion Narrative”):

When she saw the house on fire
my youngest daughter said,

When I grow up, I want to be lightning.


It’s Lim’s energetic pursuit of dark, wild truths that keep us hungry
for her wilderness and her lightning. It’s what opens us to be
willing to be unsettled, with her, as in “Aubade”:

And then maybe to sing out with a throat like that—
saying look,
look how the world has touched me.


Valerie Duff-Strautmann is the author of To the New World (Salmon

Poetry). Poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Solstice, Prague

Review, and The Common. Her book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming

in the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, PN Review, and The Critical

Flame. She is the 2015 Writers’ Room of Boston Fellow in poetry.

Hunters and Gatherers
The Red Cape