Criticism & Features




It was a terrible cloud at twilight, Pleiades Press, 2008.

Alessandra Lynch is also the author of Sails the Wind Left Behind. She was born on the East River and raised North of New York City. It was a terrible cloud at twilight is a selection of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series.

The title of this collection makes a promise that the book will deliver dark narratives to the reader—which it does—but through the use of surprising and sometimes playful language and metaphor. How did you negotiate the strange alchemy of these two elements without allowing one to consume the other?

I feel that poems arise from the poet’s body and being.  Most of my life I have probably been both “dark narrative” and “playful metaphor,” as you suggest.  Except when I was four years old.  Then I was all dark narrative.

I suppose dark playfulness is one way to characterize my song, and so I am not aware or conscious of any “negotiation” between the dark and the playful.  They are of a piece.  One “element” does not consume the other because together they make the poem whole and to lose one aspect is to lose both, to lose the poem altogether. 

I don’t believe there’s much separation between a poem and its maker—ink suffuses the skin and enters the blood; the blood gives rise to ink.  The poem reveals or embodies the shape or psyche of its maker. 

I am partial to your phrase “strange alchemy.”  I like the sense of oddness and magic and mixture (as opposed to “estrangement”). 

I think that metaphor (and metaphor-making) is a celebration, even while its darker chords might serve as a dirge—but don’t both celebrations and dirges characterize our existence?  The poem celebrates and mourns our awareness of mortality and our (desperate) attempts to feel alive and even immortal during our scant minutes of joy and beauty.

I started writing poetry as a way to create another world, a refuge from the chaos and terror that was not of my own making.  Maybe my re-making or redefining this terror through metaphor (making it my own) is necessary for me—maybe it’s the fuel for these poems.  Maybe this is the way I can inhabit and understand or make something of it, as opposed to allowing it to consume me.  That’s how I began anyway, and I suppose that has become my rhythm, my way of breathing, of making metaphor, of making poems.  Language—the music, sounds and nuances, the syllables, the textures— is my nourishment, what keeps me alive or feeling alive during the moments I make my poems, during the moments I read others’ poems. 

One of the worlds your work inhabits is the coming-of-age experience of young women and its range of encounters—love, loss, conflict, desire, etc. This is also a world filled with symbolism that’s sometimes surreal and challenging to decipher, as if this period is lived through a dream/nightmare. Can you speak more about why this particular stage in life is an important and rich muse in this book? 

Any “coming-of-age” experience/stage—no matter the age or gender of the person involved— is bound to be a rich muse; it is a particularly intense, complex, intensified time in one’s life—one which poetry might begin to express or reflect or explore or make meaningful, beautiful.  I believe that any person who is committed to living life (all her senses and sensitivities awakened and alive) feels as though she’s living through a dream/nightmare.  The “reality” of this human life can be absolutely absurd and surreal.  I strive to render my concept of the truth and my feelings in as nuanced and true a way as I can through words—some way that feels sworn to bone, that arises from marrow.  I am not interested in flattening out and simplifying my experiences and perceptions—I am interested in honoring their variety, contradictions, pushing language to where it folds inside out and begins to redefine itself.  And I am compelled to do my imagination’s bidding.  For this, I suppose these “worlds” will often be challenging to decipher; perhaps there are also moments when they need not be deciphered, but rather felt in a way as one feels the notes in music and responds in accordance.  “We think by feeling.  What is there to know?”

A number of poems in It was a terrible cloud at twilight are inspired by the deaths of friends. But these elegies are mysterious and impressionistic poems that suggest more than they reveal, that startle with their surprising imagery more than they express a state of emotion, namely sadness or grief. And yet it’s clear that these poems are elegies. What informed this strategy and did it make writing about loss more challenging or less difficult? 

I think surprising imagery can/does express a “state of emotion.”  The images that surged and staggered out of me in the elegies were the vessels, the boats, the little horses transporting my sadness and my grief.  I suppose that a startled reader (even if she is startled by imagery alone) is also one who is moved in a way, who “starts”—and maybe these elegies are less quiet than others, more agitated. 

I do believe that suggestion can be revelatory, but perhaps suggestion requires the more active involvement of a reader. 

I prefer the term “impulse” or “pulse” rather than “strategy,” which implies a pre-meditated act.  The writing about my losses was borne out of necessity, more than borne out of the urge to make a poem.  I didn’t sit down to write the poems, so much as they arrested me.  I had no other recourse—the poem became my grieving house.  The elegies were neither challenging nor easy to write; but they were compelled to be.  Each person’s grief has a different cadence and texture; some sobs are more like roars, some so soft they could be sand.  And some so jagged they scrape the throat.

(Author Photo: Gillian Quandt)