Lifshin, Lyn (Diane)

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LIFSHIN, Lyn (Diane)

Nationality: American. Born: Lyn Diane Lipman, Burlington, Vermont, 12 July 1946. Education: Syracuse University, New York, B.A. 1961; University of Vermont, Burlington, M.A. 1963; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; State University of New York, Albany, 1964–66; Bread Loaf School of English, Vermont. Family: Married Eric Lifshin in 1966. Career: Teaching Fellow, State University of New York, Albany, 1964–66; educational television writer, Schenectady, New York, 1966; instructor, State University of New York, Cobleskill, 1968, 1970; writing consultant, Mental Health Department, 1970, and Empire State College, 1973, both Albany; poet-in-residence, Mansfield State College, Pennsylvania, 1974, University of Rochester, New York, 1986, and Antioch Writers Conference, 1987. Awards: Hart Crane award; Yaddo fellowship, 1970, 1971, 1975, 1979, 1980; MacDowell fellowship, 1973; Millay Colony fellowship, 1975, 1979; Creative Artists Public Service award, 1976; Cherry Valley Editions Jack Kerouac award, 1984; Madelin Sadin award, 1989. Address: 2142 Apple Tree Lane, Niskayuna, New York 12309, U.S.A.



Why Is the House Dissolving. San Francisco, Open Skull Press, 1968.

Femina 2. Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Abraxas Press, 1970.

Leaves and Night Things. West Lafayette, Indiana, Baby John Press, 1970.

Black Apples. Trumansburg, New York, Crossing Press, 1971; revised edition, 1973.

Tentacles, Leaves. Belmont, Massachusetts, Hellric Press, 1972.

Moving by Touch. Traverse City, Michigan, Cotyledon Press, 1972.

Lady Lyn. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1972.

Mercurochrome Sun Poems. Tacoma, Washington, Charis Press, 1972.

I'd Be Jeanne Moreau. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1972.

Love Poems. Durham, New Hampshire, Zahir Press, 1972.

Undressed. Traverse City, Michigan, Cotyledon Press, 1972.

Lyn Lifshin. Durham, New Hampshire, Zahir Press, 1972.

Poems by Suramm and Lyn Lifshin. Madison, Wisconsin, Union Literary Committee, 1972.

Forty Days, Apple Nights. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1973.

Audley End Poems. Long Beach, California, MAG Press, 1973.

The First Week Poems. Plum Island, Massachusetts, Zahir Press, 1973.

Museum. Albany, New York, Conspiracy Press, 1973.

All the Women Poets I Ever Liked Didn't Hate Their Fathers. St. Petersburg, Florida, Konglomerati, 1973.

The Old House on the Croton. San Lorenzo, California, Shameless Hussy Press, 1973.

Poems. Minneapolis, Northstone, 1974.

Selected Poems. Trumansburg, New York, Crossing Press, 1974.

Upstate Madonna: Poems 1970–1974. Trumansburg, New York, Crossing Press, 1974.

Shaker House. Tannersville, New York, Tideline Press, 1974.

Blue Fingers. Milwaukee, Shelter Press, 1974.

Plymouth Women. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1974.

Shaker House Poems. Chatham, New York, Sagarin Press, 1974.

Mountain Moving Day. Trumansburg, New York, Crossing Press, 1974.

Walking thru Audley End Mansion Late Afternoon and Drifting into Certain Faces. Long Beach, California, MAG Press, 1974.

Blue Madonna. Milwaukee, Shelter Press, 1974.

Poems. Gulfport, Florida, Konglomerati, 1974.

Green Bandages. Genesco, New York, Hidden Springs, 1975.

Old House Poems. Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1975.

North Poems. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1976.

Naked Charm. N.p., Fireweed Press, 1976.

Paper Apples. Stockton, California, Wormwood, 1976.

Some Madonna Poems. Buffalo, White Pine Press, 1976.

More Waters. Cincinnati, Waters, 1977.

The January Poems. Cincinnati, More Waters, 1977.

Pantagonia. Stockton, California, Wormwood, 1977.

Mad Girl Poems. Wichita, Kansas, Caprice Out of Sight Press, 1977.

Lifshin & Richmond. Oakland, California, Bombay Duck, 1977.

Poems, with John Elsberg. Filey, Yorkshire, Fiasco, 1978.

Offered by Owner. Cambridge, New York, Natalie Slohm, 1978.

Leaning South. New York, Red Dust, 1978.

Glass. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1978.

Early Plymouth Women. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1978.

Crazy Arms. Chicago, Ommation Press, 1978.

Doctors. Santa Barbara, California, Mudborn, 1979.35 Sundays. Chicago, Ommation Press, 1979.

Men and Cars. Ware, Massachusetts, Four Zoas Press, 1979.

More Naked Charm. Los Angeles, Illuminati Press, 1979.

Madonna. Stockton, California, Wormwood, 1980.

Lips on That Blue Rail. San Francisco, Lion's Breath, 1980.

Colors of Cooper Black. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1981.

Leaving the Bough. New York, New World Press, 1982.

Blue Dust, New Mexico. Fredonia, New York, Basilisk Press, 1982.

Finger Prints. Stockton, California, Wormwood, 1982.

In the Dark with Just One Star. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1982.

Want Ads. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1982.

Lobster and Oatmeal. Sacramento, California, Pinch Penny, 1982.

Reading Lips. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1982.

Hotel Lifshin. Eureka, California, Poetry Now, 1982.

Blue Horses Nuzzle Tuesday. Burlingame, California, Minotaur Press, 1983.

Madonna Who Shifts for Herself. Long Beach, California, Applezaba, 1983.

Naked Charm (collection). Los Angeles, Illuminati Press, 1984.

The Radio Psychic Is Shaving Her Legs. Detroit, Planet Detroit, 1984.

Matinee. Chicago, Ommation Press, 1984.

Kiss the Skin Off. Cherry Valley, New York, Cherry Valley, Editions, 1985.

Remember the Ladies. East Lansing, Michigan, Ghost Dance Press, 1985.

Camping Madonna. Portlandville, New York, MAF Press, 1986.

Vergin' Mary and Madonna. El Paso, Texas, Vergin Press, 1986.

Raw Opals. Los Angeles, Illuminati Press, 1987.

The Daughter May Be Let Go. Harbor Beach, Florida, Clock Radio Press, 1987.

Red Hair and the Jesuit. Parkdale, Oregon, Trout Creek Press, 1988.

Many Madonnas, edited by Virginia I. Long. St. John, Kansas, Kindred Spirit Press, 1988.

Rubbed Silk. Los Angeles, Illuminati Press, 1988.

Dance Poems. Chicago, Ommation Press, 1988.

The Doctor. Los Angeles, Applezaba, 1990.

Blood Road. Los Angeles, Illuminati Press, 1989.

Reading Lips. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1989.

Skin Divers, with Belinda Subraman. Leeds, Yorkshire, Krax, 1989.

Under Velvet Pillows. Middletown Springs, Vermont, Four Zoas Press, 1989.

Not Made of Glass. Saratoga Springs, New York, Karista, 1990.

Reading Lips. Milwaukee, Morgan Press, 1992.

Marilyn Monroe. Portland, Oregon, Quiet Lion, 1994.

Appleblossoms. East Lansing, Michigan, Ghostdance, 1994.

Parade. Stockton, California, Wormwood, 1994.

Shooting Kodachromes in the Dark. Manotick, Ontario, Penumbra Press, 1994.

Blue Tattoo. Desert Hot Springs, California, Event Horizon Press, 1995.

Cold Comfort. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1997.

Before It's Light. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1999.

Recordings: Lyn Lifshin Reads Her Poems, Women's Audio Exchange, 1977; Offered by Owner, Slohm, 1978.


Screenplay: Not Made of Glass, 1989.


Editor, Tangled Vines: A Collection of Mother and Daughter Poems. Boston, Beacon Press, 1978.

Editor, Ariadne's Thread: A Collection of Contemporary Women's Journals. New York, Harper, 1982.

Editor, Lips Unsealed. Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1990.


Bibliography: By Marvin Malone, in Wormwood Review (Stockton, California), 12(3), 1971.

Manuscript Collection: University of Texas, Austin; Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Critical Studies: By Bill Katz, in Library Journal (New York), June 1971, and December 1972; Carol Rainey, in Road Apple Review (Albuquerque, New Mexico), summer-fall 1971; Victor Contoski, in Northeast (La Crosse, Wisconsin), fall-winter 1971–72; James Naiden, in Minneapolis Star, 18 April 1972; Dave Etter, in December (West Springs, Illinois), 1972; "Lyn Lifshin" by Jim Evans in Windless Orchard (Fort Wayne, Indiana), summer 1972; Eric Mottram, in Little Magazine (New York), summer-fall 1972; New York Times Book Review, 18 December 1978; "Lyn Lifshin Issue" of Poetry Now (Eureka, California), 1980, and Greenfield Review (Greenfield Center, New York), 1983; "Breathing Poems: An Interview with Lyn Lifshin" by Jay Dougherty, in BOGG, 60, 1988.

Lyn Lifshin comments:

I'm usually better at doing something than talking about how and why I do it. One time I spent days trying to say how I wanted the words to be connected to touch the reader's body. Somehow. Except that sounded strange, and so I tore it up … It seems to me that the poem has to be sensual (not necessarily sexual, tho that's OK too) before it can be anything else. So rhythm matters a lot to me, most, or at least first. Before images even. I want whoever looks at, whoever eats, the poem to feel the way old ebony feels at four o'clock in a cold Van Cortlandt mansion, or the smell of lemons in a strange place, or skin.

Words that I like to hear other people say the poems are are strong, tight, real, startling, tough, tender, sexy, physical, controlled—that they celebrate (Carol Rainey), reflect joy in every aspect of being a woman (James Naiden).

I always steal things I like from people, other poets, especially from blues, old black and country blues rhythms (after most readings people come and ask how, where I started reading the way I do; another mystery really). So I was glad to have Dave Etter say that Black Apples "comes on like a stack of Cannonball Adderley records, blowing cool, blowing hot, sometimes lyrical and sweet, sometimes hard bop, terse and tough."

*  *  *

Perhaps no other contemporary American poet has been as widely published as Lyn Lifshin, whose prolific production has sometimes overshadowed the true range and significance of her work. From her early poems—written soon after her departure from the academic world, to which, unlike many other poets, she has never returned—in which she presents with painful accuracy the shallowness and insincerity of a world where one may "fail to understand the requirements," to her later work, in which she enters the lives of such diverse people as women in early Plymouth and Indians on exhibit in museums and deals straightforwardly with her own family, especially the relationship between mother and daughter, she has been a risk taker. The risk has been most obvious, perhaps, in her poems on sexuality, in which both the emotional and the physical relationships between men and women are laid bare. One would be hard-pressed to find another writer who has done as thorough a job of evoking the despair of a woman caught in the traps that social restrictions and marriage create for Americans. She is far more than a poet with only one subject, however, even though her voice is one that is always recognizable.

Lifshin's poetry is characterized by a breathless quality, a voice reflected by pages of short lines, incomplete sentences, pauses, and sudden revelations. Until the moment of explosion, her poems can be disarmingly simple. At times her candor, especially about sex, is as hard and cold as the sound of feet on the pavement of a red-light district late at night. Few have written more bitingly or more tenderly about modern sexual mores, especially as reflected in the lives of women. At other times, in her so-called Madonna poems, for example, she explores worlds in which the line between physical experience and imagination blurs. Lifshin's many Madonnas are both modern and widely archetypal, both funny and sad, as shown by titles such as "Parachute Madonna" and "Shifting for Herself Madonna."

Although Lifshin's poems are the result of an almost religious devotion to her craft, she seems to reach many of the final versions not so much by rewriting and reworking a single poem as by producing series that gradually—or even cumulatively—reach the desired effect. The result is a body of work that is impressive in its size, almost epic in proportion, an irony when one considers that few individual Lifshin poems are more than thirty lines in length. Her work might be seen, in fact, as a journey through her own life and through time, through the lives of other women (her work as an anthologist is an indication of her interest in the writing of women in general), creating a poetic collage of the latter part of the twentieth century, its optimism and its depressions. In the midst of all this she has placed herself, continually searching for meaning and identity as a woman, as a poet, as one of Jewish heritage, as a threatened member of the human species in the confusing landscape of history, personal liberty, and social reality.

Whereas the writers of classical times wrote long, connected epics, Lifshin has ventured forth with short lyrics. Her voice is that of a female Odysseus, sometimes confused, often innocent, but always tenacious, one whose journey takes us along and teaches us as we go.

Joseph Bruchac