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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen

Source: Mary Bisbee-Beek
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen is a collection of poems that blurs reality, dreams, and fantasies in a way that requires the reader to parse out the truth from between the lines.  It’s a collection into which the reader will likely stumble into the darkness of an abused woman’s life and fail to leave or fall into the bed of an adulterer, only to take the misplaced shame of faulty perception with them.  “Picnic Triptych” illustrates these blurred lines very well in which the reader is introduced to the “Small Brown Notebook” in which a tall man is found — a stalker of sorts.  Is the narrator dreaming of an encounter with this man, who resembles an artist in a painting by Manet, or is this something more?

Like Manet, Paschen is building an impressionist painting with words: verse by verse, page by page.  Night can make the world a bit more mysterious, and it can encourage the mind to conjure dangers from nothingness, a mind playing tricks on the narrator or the reader, sometimes both.  Like in “Of Mice,” where the narrator and the reader must “fear the carving knife” of “the farmer’s wife”, placing ourselves in the position of the mice — an older nursery rhyme — only to have our world upended and the mice are really escaped prisoners tunneling through the earth toward their own freedom.  Or are we all of these things, trapped inside our own prisons and eager for escape, with only fear keeping us huddled inside?

From “Of Mice” (pg. 32)

the penitentiary.
We lock all doors,
and, when the wind

hurtles umbrellas
against the deck,
we hide.

Paschen’s poems are riddles inside of riddles, dreams and nightmares wrapped inside wonderfully painted landscapes and portraits.  The Nightlife by Elise Paschen should not be missed; it is full of word artistry and surprises.

RATING: Quatrain

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About the Poet:

Poet and editor Elise Paschen was born and raised in Chicago. She earned a BA at Harvard University, where she won the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal and the Joan Grey Untermeyer Poetry Prize, and went on to receive a PhD in 20th century British and American Literature at Oxford University with a dissertation on the manuscripts of poet William Butler Yeats. During her time at Oxford she also co-founded Oxford Poetry.

  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    I’m not sure I’d be good at understanding these poems, but I’m intrigued, and I love the cover.

    • Serena Agusto-Cox

      I love the cover of this one too. It’s not too complicated really.

  • bermudaonion(Kathy)

    I have trouble solving riddles so I struggle with this kind of poetry. I wish I was better at understanding it.

  • Suko http://www.sukosnotebook

    Insightful review! I’m glad you enjoyed this poetry collection.