Review of Lisa Bellamy’s The Northway

Review by Alarie Tennille

The Northway
Lisa Bellamy
978-1947896055
(2018, Terrapin Books)
$6.75, Paper

“As a seed, I was shot out the back end of a blue jay.” Pow! In her opening persona poem, “Wild Pansy,” Lisa Bellamy grabs our full attention. How could anyone stop there? In the first four lines of The Northway, she takes us from poop humor to unexpected empathy as Pansy remembers the blue jay, “. . . briefly I called her Mother / before I passed through her gullet like a ghost. / In a blink of God’s eye, I was an orphan. . . .”

That first poem draws you, and Bellamy doesn’t let up the pace. Her final, title poem, “The Northway,” begins, “If I drive with my eyes closed, I imagine the road better.” The suspense could almost kill us if her blind driving doesn’t. Luckily, by the time we reach that page, we have complete confidence in Bellamy’s ability to keep us safely in our reading chairs.

Bellamy’s poetry defies description, because it’s so many things at once. She can go off on more tangents in a 30-line poem than a Southerner in a porch swing chatting away Sunday afternoon, yet her unique grab bag of topics and metaphors works. If her poems were a movie, we wouldn’t dare leave our seats.

In “Blueberry Crumble at the Noon-Time Diner,” a single-page poem, Bellamy manages to cram her immigrant Irish ancestor, tourists, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, patrons in lime-green and yellow shorts, trout at her grandparents’ house, her ancestor’s communion watch, her lover’s salty neck, bear grease in the hair of Mohawk men, Paul Bunyan, and more. The unlikely juxtaposition of people and events makes us even more curious where the heck she’s taking us.

The poet also understands when simplicity works best. “Girl Meets Bear” contains only the girl and the bear, because why would it need anything more?

The Northway could be a master class in Where Ideas Come From. Bellamy spends more in nature than most of us, but she doesn’t rely solely on the species most endearing to humans like deer and butterflies. She tells us her “father used to say, play the cards you’re dealt,” and she admires that same determination in all species, including ticks, snakes, woodchucks, and feral pigs.

Like most poets, she also writes poems of personal experience, her marriage, addiction, breast biopsy, but Lisa Bellamy goes even further in her topic search. We’ve all had people call us by the wrong name, but she creates an alternate personality and new life for herself as Lucy.

Bellamy does more than amaze and entertain. She may even save our lives. In “If a Black Bear Approaches,” she shares a warning from Adirondack Explorer: speak to the bear in normal tones so that it knows you are a human. A normal tone might be hard to master in such a moment, so she provides a sample monologue. We may memorize all or part of it and be prepared when we meet a “Gigantic – filthy, / slightly-slobbering, / big-tongued Teddy / sniffing the air.” You might want to practice calmly chanting, “Go, go now, / go, go, go, / my splendid, plus-size / Paddington . . . .”

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 1.

Alarie Tennille graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she serves on the Emeritus Board of The Writers Place.  Her newest poetry collection is Waking on the Moon (Kelsay Books). Please visit her at alariepoet.com.

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