In Lisa Zimmerman’s second full-length collection of poems, The Light at the Edge of Everything (Tallahassee, Florida: Anhinga Press, 2008), you will find much light, many edges, and virtually everything. Lisa Zimmerman is an award-winning poet and associate professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. A graduate of Colorado State University, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University. Her first full-length collection of poems, How the Garden Looks from Here, won the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry and was published in 2004.
The light in this collection might be “sunlight fringing the crabapple tree” in the opening poem, which the poem’s speaker finds to be “enough,” or the light the speaker needs in the final poem to give a fox its color, its red, which she must “conjure” from her own heart. The edges include the edge of the door that sometimes swung open to let her enter her difficult mother’s closet, where the speaker “Bent to each shoe, daring / my growing foot to slip inside” but also the edge between who was in the towers on 9/11 and who was not, perhaps by chance—“If taxis flew past even though your hand was raised.” That restrained and powerful poem, “Unrecovered,” rides the repetition of “if” and ends with the question, “If they can’t find a body, whose heart gets buried?” And the everything? Lisa Zimmerman’s poems attend to husband, daughters, son, body, mind, spirit, the past, horses, lake, other birds and animals, land, world. Love, loss, grief, celebration. And more. All find their way into her deeply human view, her illuminating imagination, and her exquisite language. But let me also approach this sense of everything from another angle.
I intended to choose and write about two illustrative poems from this collection, but I soon found myself immersed and rereading the whole. In his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Mark Nepo introduces the concept of an “Upaguru.” He writes, “In Hindu, an Upaguru is the teacher that is next to you at any moment. This is not limited to a person.” As the poet’s attention is drawn to whatever she encounters, she lets it become her teacher until it becomes a poem that makes it also ours. If you do not yet know these poems, I invite you to their light, their edge, their everything.