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Review of HOMESCAPES by Susan Snively:
As I began to read Lee Woodman’s dazzling new book of poems, the title leaped out at me, as if to deliver an urgent message. The word held other words inside: “me,” “escape,” “scapes,” “hope,” and others. I saw safety and danger traveling together, as “home” brings forth new “me-scapes,” versions of herself speaking new words: “nullah,” “peelu,” “dhobi.” Woodman’s vivid, sensuous language draws on the poet’s experiences living in India, France, and New Hampshire. As we read and re-read, we discover how the road to home may become both escape and return. Her skillful handling of form and rhyme (free verse, syllabics, villanelles, hymn meter, among others) creates a template for memorable images, like the “voluminous Hemlock” that “absorbs all life’s events: attacked, endured, sun saluted, sorrows sustained.” (“Trees have Longer Lives.”)
The book’s three sections, “India,” “America,” and “Stereoscope,” recapture the many awakenings of adolescence in a faraway place, in company with her family. In “Road Trip to Nilokheri” she travels with her father through “wobbling air, ” “ripples of cool from the nullah’s water” battling “currents of heat that flare down.” When she plays with the local children, she fumbles the ball, but they giggle and the village elders “salaam, pressing palms together—Namaste.” The poem touches on awkwardness, then eases into a tone of gratitude for small comforts, “A weak trickle from the shower,” the taste of “our surviving cucumber—melony, slightly sweet, faintly salty—the last warm coke, delicious.” This is no supermarket cucumber, but a vegetable with a complex nature.
In “Jaya the Ayah,” the rhymes—“vinegar, “”sinister,” “blood,” “commode,” suggest the Ayah’s venomous behavior toward the sisters and her own boyfriend (“Snap! She broke his bone in two”). When they learn that Jaya has been “fired,” the girls, “terror-struck,” take the meaning literally, “horrified to think / she still lay burning on her pyre.” The poem places troublous imagination at its center. Woodman blends the perils of the world with its edgy pleasures, as in “Climbing the Rohtang Pass.” On the border of India, the Rohtang Pass, flanked by forests, “rocky rubble,” and “jagged peaks,” means “Pile of Corpses.” A photograph taken by her father shows her in the Pass, in mountain clothes, but lifted aloft into China, where she imagines “those frozen souls below / had chosen to stay there.” In the last two lines, the poet rises up into “an endless view” that “could drown us all–/ a sensation of snow under our bellies for the rest of time.”
Woodman’s ease with internal rhyme shows up in various ways: “Homeroom Ghazal” uses the word “home” as “a relative word”—one of her puns. While Lee and her sisters prepare for sock hops by listening to rock ‘n’ roll on WBZ, their mother, who had “twirled in silver purple taffeta” at glamorous parties in Delhi, watches “As the World Turns” on “our first-time-ever TV.” The details of daily life, like her father’s Old Boston pencil sharpener with “its roundabout of multi-sized holes,” (a playground ride transported to a desk) complicate and enhance the “homeland” the poet shares with “a flock of purple finches” who write their own stories with “Quills tipped in raspberry.” (“Father’s Roll Top.”) What the poet calls her “inherited irreverence” begins a poem (“A Mulch Pile Prayer”) on a wacky note: “Our Father who art in the mulch pile, Hallowed be thy Brussels sprouts.” Several poems in this “America” section of the book have an elegiac, yet wry tone: “Found in a New Hampshire Cottage” ends: “Years later, there is still an urn we plan to bury sometime.” No guilt trip, just a wish as yet unrealized.
In the book’s last section, “Stereoscope,” the poet completes the ritual of burying her parents’ ashes in the Ganges (“Visit to Varanasi Forty-Seven Years Later”). Helped by her guide, Bena, she learns that “miniature clay lamps can be set free in the black water, a holy way to bid farewell to he dead and dying.” Her father’s lamp holds a candle. As he “forms his own vanishing stream in the current,” the three yellow marigolds for her mother “follow swiftly, forming rivulets back and forth across his wake.” The poem’s sinuous long lines recreate the stream and the rivulets that vanish, but like gifts from the depths, they bring back flame and color. Such images are memory’s afterlife.
Books: HOMESCAPES by Lee Woodman: BUY HERE MINDSCAPES by Lee Woodman: BUY HERE Poetry Publications: The Hill Rag, January 2020 The Concord Monitor, June 2019 The New Guard Review Vol. VII, November 2018 vox poetica, May 2018, June 2018, November 2018, May - September 2019 The Ekphrastic Review, January 2018, November 2018 Grey Sparrow Journal, January 2018 Tiferet Journal, Understood Pasts and Uncertain Futures, January 2016 April Poem-A-Thon 2016, April 2016 (30 poems) Zocalo Public Square, Essay, What it Means to be American, December 2015
Poetry Workshops: The Writer’s Hotel, NYC, 2017, 2018, 2019 Writer’s Center, Bethesda, MD, 2015-2018, Sun Magazine, Esalen, CA, 2015, 2016, 2017 Iowa University Online Workshop 2016
Readings: Montgomery College, Silver Spring, Maryland, October 2018 (Craig Kraft “The Urge to Mark” exhibition) Writer’s Center, Bethesda, Maryland 2018 Bowery Poetry Café, NYC, June 2017, June 2018, June 2019 Van Ness North Cooperative, Washington, DC May 2016 Ragged Mountain Lodge, Andover, NH, July 2016 Word Works, Washington, DC, December 2015 Gibson’s Bookstore, Concord, NH, August 2015 Awards: FY 2019 Individual Poetry Fellowship from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
What Came Before Poetry?
Senior Advisor to the Director, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution 2011 to 2014
Executive Producer, Smithsonian Entertainment, Smithsonian Business Ventures 1996-2000
Manager of Multimedia, Smithsonian Institution, 1984-1996
K12, Inc. Vice-President, Media and Editorial, 2000-2002
Principal: Lee Woodman Media, Inc. 2002-2011
Library of Congress
World Bank Group – International Finance Corporation
Deluxe Digital Media
Fulbright Program, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, Department of State
MA in Art Education, Hartford Art School, University of Hartford, Connecticut; BA in Art, Colby College, Waterville, Maine, Junior Year Abroad, University of Paris, l’Institut d’Art et d’Archéologie
Multiple radio, web, and film awards including five CINEs, two NY International Film Blue Ribbons, three Gracies from American Women in Radio and Television, CINDY Award, Ohio State Award, CPB Award, National Education Award, Columbus Chris Award, Yahoo Outstanding Website and USA Today Hotpick for “Experiencing War.”
*This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.