Poetry News

A Woman of Property, by Robyn Schiff, Reviewed at The New Yorker

By Harriet Staff


"We’ve all had the experience of trying to power down our minds before sleep; [Robyn] Schiff has made an art of that anxious, self-patrolling state," writes Dan Chiasson for the current issue of The New Yorker. Schiff's third volume of poetry, A Woman of Property, has just been released by Penguin Poets. More from this review:

Schiff’s poems, with their Hitchcock-like distrust of appearances, their alertness to hidden binds and snares, offer something few poets ever discover: a vision of the whole world. It’s a paranoid vision, often an unsettling one, but a huge variety of phenomena enter the poems. From H1N1 to supermarket carnations and the petrified rictus of a lobster (“like a terrible crack / in a wall something worse is coming through”), these poems are interested in everything, possessing a capaciousness that, paradoxically, requires tight control. If you had a houseful of wild animals, you would need cages. Schiff, like Marianne Moore—a profound and not entirely metabolized antecedent—has, instead, stanzas: rigid, cratelike stanzas, which often employ regular patterns of syllables per line. This angular style forces Schiff’s material, however vicious, to accommodate itself to the civilizing influence of her forms. The precision, as with Moore, is comic, fastidious: a mountain lion combines “undulation / and the gait of a worm”; a pile of dust reveals “the iridescence / in soil, / the mica and / infinitesimal / crystal.” As with Moore, too, these passages are almost impossible to quote effectively: they are made of superlong, ribbonlike sentences distributed across white space, often broken against their syntax by an inflexible line.

But Schiff is, finally, a poet of family life, a subject that Moore rarely touched. “The temptations of self-sufficiency / are great,” she writes, “but not great / enough”: the pressure of maintaining patience, of creating for those she loves a zone of approachability and safety, makes her an altogether different kind of poet from Moore, who kept herself scarce. Schiff can be disarmingly personal, the warmth of the information cut by the astringency of her forms...

Read it all here.