The Greek word ‘historia’ means “a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative”, relating history to idein (“to see”) and eidenai (“to know”). While it may seem a cliché to begin an introduction with a dictionary entry, etymological research is appropriate to Sarah Lindsay’s poetry. Her poems are full of inquiry, of sights and sounds that shift and pass with time, in which history might encompass not only the record of giant eruptions, but also the passing of the more unfamilar quagga.
“Lindsay’s delight in imaginary and unknown worlds, her compulsion to write exactly what she doesn't know, removes her poems completely from the tired confessional anecdotalism of so much narrative poetry,” writes Daisy Fried in a review of Lindsay’s Twigs and Knucklebones in Poetry magazine. Rather than the private anecdote, Lindsay’s poetry sets its sights on the uncertainty in the universal story and the desire to hunt for meaning in history, records, and poetry:
They know they may crawl out hungry, mumbling,
aged and gray, clutching a secret message of small import
or nothing, nothing. They seem lost. They seem happy.
(from ‘The So-called Singer of Nab’)
“Archaeology and memory are two ways of trying to retrieve and keep the past, both of them fallible, fascinating and doomed to be incomplete,” explained Lindsay to Guernica poetry editor Erica Wright. “Poetry, archaeology, and memory work to fill in, or at least outline, spaces in what we know.” While many of Lindsay’s poems trek through the ancient and exotic, the same attention is paid to history of the everyday:
His friends adore his paper-cuttings—
“Nothing I do will last,” he says.
What is this future approval we think we need;
who made passing time our judge?
Do we want butter that endures for ages,
or butter that melts into homemade cornbread now?
(from ‘Zucchini Shofar’)
Twigs and Knucklebones, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, 2008
Mount Clutter, Grove Press, New York, 2002
Primate Behavior, Grove Press, New York, 1997
Insomniac's Lullaby (chapbook), Unicorn Press, 1989
Bodies of Water (chapbook), Unicorn Press, 1986
From the Fishouse audio recordings
Guernica, ‘Five Questions for Sarah Lindsay’
Poetry Off the Shelf, ‘Poetry Books for the Holidays’ audio recording
Poetry Magazine Podcast, ‘Accident Plays a Part in Art’ audio recording
‘Who Needs to Hear A Quagga's Voice?’: Daisy Fried reviews Lindsay's Twigs and Knucklebones in Poetry magazine