On Looking: Essays

Lia Purpura, Author . Sarabande $14.95 (139p) ISBN 978-1-932511-39-0

Looking, Purpura writes, is a way of paying attention; it is an almost spiritual practice, and it was "the sole practice I had available to me as a child." In these 18 pieces, the essayist (Increase ) looks at colors (brown and red seem to be favorites), at shape and time, at dead bodies, weather, fear. The most trenchant essay muses about women being seen. These pieces are not so much essays as prose poems, lyrical hymns to beauty and aesthetics. Purpura describes single objects beautifully: Chinese lanterns are "those orange, papery pods gone lacy in fall, with a dim, silver berry burning inside." Though her putative topic is the visual, Purpura also ponders language, explaining word games and playing with the precision of diction (which verb best describes the things you do to drapes, she wonders: do you draw them, shut them or pull them?). Indeed, Purpura's prose is sometimes a tad too opaque: "If I can call the pin image, memento, moment suspended, then the whole northeastern Ohio sky draws close...." This slim volume requires careful, slow parsing, but readers who persevere will be rewarded with Purpura's deep intelligence. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 05/29/2006
Release date: 08/01/2006
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