The Volcano Sequence

The Volcano Sequence (University of Pittsburgh Press, $12.95) is Alicia Ostriker’s tenth volume of poems. Ostriker, a former Lilith poetry editor, gives a vivid portrait of a woman at a turning point in her life, a narrator whose voice is full of contradiction. She is lucid and erratic, forthcoming and withdrawn, righteous and vulnerable, rebellious and tame. We catch her in the midst of a dialogue with a being who is just as complex and elusive, addressed as “you paradigm paradox / you absent presence…you good evil.” In language by turns sparse, lyric, erotic, and conversational, Ostriker’s narrator asks this being urgent questions about life and purpose, separation and attachment, pain and rebirth.

In addition to searching for answers to these questions, Ostriker’s heroine is trying to understand this Protean being, whose presence (and absence) haunts her. The “you” addressed throughout the book wavers from the Old Testament God, a father-figure both protective and destructive, to Shekhinah, the feminine aspect of God who symbolizes struggling women throughout the world and their instincts for survival, to the speaker’s mother. This is a mother who, she feels, betrayed and abandoned her, whose care and attention she longs for.

By the end of the book, we feel the narrator coming into her voice completely unhindered, with the freedom to say to her mother, and to the world, “I am sixtytwo/ at last able to speak the sentence /I love you.”

Wendy Wisner‘s poetry has appeared in Sojourner. She has an MFA from Hunter College and leads the Poets’ Circle at Makor.