Lissa Wolsak is a major American poet, living in Vancouver; Squeezed Light is a comprehensive gathering of her published work, which includes seven poem-sequences, a prose piece titled “An Heuristic Prolusion”, an interview, and an extended introduction by George Quasha (with Charles Stein).
“Major” is a weighty word, not to be trifled with; yet I feel confident in this case. It has become a commonplace to note that American poetry is various, fractured, “balkanized”—but if we think of the distinctive American stream in English writing, we must reckon with a single, branching river. That is, we are dealing on the one hand with the brilliant, idiosyncratic, metaphysically-ambitious, transcendental Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson—and on the other with a darker channel: the melancholic, skeptical, ironic “power of blackness” (Harry Levin’s term) represented primarily by Poe and Melville. Lissa Wolsak floats her boat where both streams merge. She is an heir to their astringent, challenging, and problematic greatness.