However defined, prose poems usually confound me. They often come off as series of conventional paragraphs—what looks to me as bricks of text arranged in walls of white—no more poetic than any other prose. The prose poems that comprise Heisenberg’s Salon, Susan Lewis’s new collection, refreshingly generate cadence, rhythm, arresting rhymes. In short, they read like true poems because they are. But in the spirit of a volume that nervously veers and upends, let me depart my focus on form for an observation of atmosphere: These poems are tense!

They are also intense. Lewis refuses causal, casual, transparent notions of relations between concepts, people, or situations. She senses the irrational lurking within every gesture, symbol, structure, and sentiment. She does not exult in confusion and skepticism but dutifully communicates them— a radical and welcome honesty.

These poems visit seemingly commonplace scenarios, often with an unnamed “she” and “he” sharing confidences or company, which leads to some unexpected catastrophe. Or rather, unexpected if one is not prepared to share Lewis’s frightening logic that catastrophe is one of more usual developments we can come to expect.

Like most doomsayers, Lewis is a realist; she can square the humdrum and bureaucratic with the numinous or whimsical. Catastrophe does not amount to a visit to the void, critique of meaning, or a massacre of hope. Her characters can be both Ovidian and devoid of evolution and innovation (two words that reappear several times) but they are always in states of agitation, another term that crops up more than once. The mention of tension earlier remembered? Good.

Along with tension, discrepancy: smooth alliteration can glide over semantic distress. Heisenberg’s Salon is highlighting the notion, over and over, that we are near the buzzing abyss, as in “The October Bees”:

The October Bees
are gleeful, lacking built impostors to envy & adore. While we
creep past the predictable glory, reverse ghost in the machine for
metal in flesh, master in slave in mastered slave, tossing our
othered selves like floating death rafts, scrapped hearts on loan to
hapless hands. Message tangle channeled through a harmony of
hairs, black swan events fertile as bad ideas while chips & cells
wine & dine, wrapping the virtual maypole with their branded
brilliance. Beckoning in the current currency, dazzled by the glint
of mineral skin & serenaded by the song of the machine, tipped &
teetering in the smothering wind.

Oh, to be those bees of autumn. They are able to fly beyond our circumstances and lives while we, over and over, feel a certain sting. Susan Lewis lets us contemplate the sting while singing it. Praise be unto the competent mixed messenger who gives us the balm of expression with the burden of realization.

Heisenberg’s Salon by Susan Lewis is published by Blaze/VOX and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

Jon Curley is the author of four volumes of poetry, most recently Scorch Marks. Remnant Halo is due out in spring 2021 from Marsh Hawk Press. He teaches in the Humanities Department at New Jersey Institute...