|"Reading Karen Lillis" copyright 2014 Kristin Fouquet|
Perpetual Poetry: Words Inspiring Words
a review of The Paul Simon Project by Karen Lillis
I have a confession to make. I am not a poet.
I write fiction and I believe writing poetry is a completely different process.
I love reading good poetry, but I am in no way a poetry scholar.
These are the reasons I usually do not review poetry chapbooks.
The Paul Simon Project by Karen Lillis is only my second exception to this rule.
Influenced by Simon’s words and music on the album Still Crazy After All These Years,
Lillis duplicates the song titles for her poems in this collection. Some follow a similar
path as the subject of the song; others venture in their own direction.
The album’s title song inspires a poem which mimics the melancholy and
sentimentality of the original. Yet, she pumps it up with a contemporary
edginess and gender reversal. In “My Little Town,” Simon sings, “In my little town,
I never meant nothin’; I was just my father’s son.” Lillis’ character is not just her
mother’s daughter as she is “holding on tightly to straight A’s and virginity;
double-edged, sure-shot, one-way ticket out of my little town.” A lover sacrifices
half her beloved to 70s television until she finally succumbs to watching with him
in “I Do It For Your Love.” Resisting the familiar rhyme of “50 Ways To Leave
Your Lover,” Lillis demonstrates simply, but poignantly, both sides as the one who
wants to leave and the one who is left. With “Night Game,” the baseball song
becomes more personal in her poem as a security guard lives vicariously
through the nightly action.
Side 2 begins with “Gone at Last.” I found this poem especially profound via personal
experience. I had a partner who lost a sentimental ring during a bad patch in our
relationship and I wondered if it was simple carelessness or subconscious sabotage.
Anyone who has ever been close to a gambler might relate to the poem “Some
Folks’ Lives Roll Easy.” The sad dreamer is the gambler who, down on his luck,
suffers through desperate ruination in the hopes to get back on top, just once again.
“Have a Good Time,” is a song which brings me back to Annie Hall. In a bar scene
in the movie, Paul Simon’s character is inviting Annie and Alvy to join his friends
and him at a party. She wants to go because it sounds like a good time, but Alvy
immediately makes an excuse about a “thing” they have to do. In the poem of the
same name, she conveys the reluctance and uncertainty of a new life in a different
city and if there will be good times again. The vulnerability of a new relationship is
explored in the poem “You’re Kind.” Like the song which prompted it, the
question of compatibility is raised with raw honesty. Its intensity is enough to make the
sensitive reader tremble. The final poem, “Silent Eyes,” reveals a mature relationship wavering
on the edge. The strength of this one is in the universal passage of time changing every
individual and couple. One is left feeling the gravity of life and its meaning or lack of it.
The impact of this collection of poems goes beyond the enjoyment of discovering
or revisiting Simon’s album and Lillis’ brilliant response to it. The beauty of this
chapbook is the reminder of words inspiring words and how her words will inspire more.