Home » Newpages Blog » The Hermit

The Hermit

The Hermit shows us Laura Solomon’s self-reflexive speaker, a poet who has lived much of her life sending more love letters to the world than she has received from it. In poem after poem of her third book, the poet-speaker illustrates the loneliness, anxiety, and doubt she has endured while living through words, whose meanings have weathered time. The problem she has had, we imagine, is with written language itself—“in the dream you are becoming / don’t become just words / one more person for whom love prefers / words to other people” (“Dream Ear III”). It seems the words she inks from memory cannot stay fixed. Even though remembered experience does not yellow like paper, it undergoes significant alterations—people change into shadows of their former selves, cities decay and get restored and decay again, and places once important to us drift into our peripheries. We imagine that another problem she has must be with the slipperiness of written language, its phenomenological deficiencies. Particular experience falls through the gaps left between the sentences she writes. As with infatuation, the good feeling that surges through us while in the flow of writing is short-lived. We each know something about how this goes, but most of us shrug when we ask ourselves how a poet might express such frustration. Solomon does so by writing poems that get at how her romantic relationship with the world—its people, places, things and valences—has matured and, as a result, taken up a more realistic position regarding written language and its possibilities.

The Hermit shows us Laura Solomon’s self-reflexive speaker, a poet who has lived much of her life sending more love letters to the world than she has received from it. In poem after poem of her third book, the poet-speaker illustrates the loneliness, anxiety, and doubt she has endured while living through words, whose meanings have weathered time. The problem she has had, we imagine, is with written language itself—“in the dream you are becoming / don’t become just words / one more person for whom love prefers / words to other people” (“Dream Ear III”). It seems the words she inks from memory cannot stay fixed. Even though remembered experience does not yellow like paper, it undergoes significant alterations—people change into shadows of their former selves, cities decay and get restored and decay again, and places once important to us drift into our peripheries. We imagine that another problem she has must be with the slipperiness of written language, its phenomenological deficiencies. Particular experience falls through the gaps left between the sentences she writes. As with infatuation, the good feeling that surges through us while in the flow of writing is short-lived. We each know something about how this goes, but most of us shrug when we ask ourselves how a poet might express such frustration. Solomon does so by writing poems that get at how her romantic relationship with the world—its people, places, things and valences—has matured and, as a result, taken up a more realistic position regarding written language and its possibilities.

In “Places,” the collection’s first poem, the speaker asks “what can you see? / a lung-shaped tree and the nest is made of words.” With the of-the-body image of the “lung-shaped tree” and the nest “made of words,” the speaker imposes an entirely human world, one built by the materials of language, onto the natural one. Dreaming along with Solomon, the reader draws analogies between, say, a hundred-year-old oak holding a hundred annual birds’ nests, and a person’s body over the course of a lifespan, fashioning her life out of words and actions season after season. Nests, like the dwellings we temporarily occupy, like the idioms and speech acts we share, belong to the species who construct them over time rather than to the individual birds. Throughout the collection, Solomon reflects on the peculiar relationship among collective humanity, individual agency, the things we encounter, and the words we individuals use to represent the world.

Further apropos of being and time, Solomon’s speaker expresses a fascination with language as a mysterious human system. Language, with its countless permutations, is always already available to us in the present, yet its readiness denies individual ownership since anyone can give words to the things in the world. Words forget you, states the speaker in “Dream Ear III,” in the way that “the mirror forgets you / after you leave it. . .  / . . . after you / say them you leave them / with or without a trace.”

Solomon’s style capitalizes on this uncertainty in saying things. Writing from the poetic aesthetics of the open text, Solomon moves her lines down the page with room to breathe between each statement, with loose, associative connections welcoming the reader to backtrack and reread a line resonating two lines above the one just read. In “French Sentences,” the speaker’s syntactic experimentation illustrates how the reflexive nature of language gives her space, actual rooms opening onto imagined rooms, in which to work through her desires and losses:

the walls are useless
you can hear your neighbors eating cabbage
I go to where I am and you are there
this morning I woke because of dreaming the sentence below and above
is there anything lonelier than a lost glove?

Just as wood and plaster walls fail to wall out noises in an adjacent apartment, our psychic walls aren’t soundproof against intense feeling seeping into each porous moment of consciousness. The speaker partitions two fragments from a dream with a line of narrative: “I go to where I am and you are there,” and “is there anything lonelier than a lost glove?”

In terms of what renders Solomon’s speaker uncertain, the visual-spatial deceits of figurative language, particularly those of metaphor, simile and metonym, seem the biggest offenders. Toward the middle of “French Sentences,” the speaker remembers a lover who wrote her letters “in which he used the word cathedraling.” She says, “inside the word there were children laughing so I wanted to run away with him / we were both poets so couldn’t be trusted with words.” This metonym bent into a verb, “cathedraling,” saddens her because the way the young man used it meant too much to her; the reader senses the verb, galvanized for her by the sounds of joyous children, unlocked her heart and opened her to unrealized possibilities.

Elsewhere in the book, Solomon delights in the figure’s ability to shift the notion of one thing, dreamlike, into another noun that moves the poem forward. Often she generates a pleasant dissonance— a tension between the real and the surreal— in the blink of an eye before her syntax completes itself, giving the line breaks some slack. Consider the half-meaning suggested by these lines: “complaining about cockroaches the little brown ones / then the colossal flying ones that like to land on your head / even inside // the screened in porch they like to land. . . ”. At the quick image of cockroaches landing on and “even inside” the speaker’s head, I have to imagine the reader’s smirk and ah as “the screened in porch” phrase fetches the rest of the sentence’s meaning.

I particularly enjoy the way she swerves her metaphors from thing to thing in “Philadelphia,” the book’s longest poem:

we like where we live
the apartment like being inside
an old flower
                 orange and falling
apart but feeling
                      lucky to be
colored by the hum of another particular
afternoon behind the building

behind the building lies another
building, the primary
school
         it rules
talk and traffic
                    beyond all that
lies the center
the city
a periphery without periphery
other cities
a world of buildings, a building up of worlds and
others
        it’s hard to imagine properly
what that means

Solomon has a knack for expressing what is marvelous and sublime in our constructed world. Here, in “Philadelphia,” and throughout The Hermit, she cracks open the real, as represented by our shared language, and reshapes it into another collection of poems, the vital things she makes of the world.

Spread the word!