Inspired by displays at a small natural history museum, the poems in Lisa Allen Ortiz’s collection, Guide to the Exhibit, are about what we set aside to examine and remember. The quirky, scientific lens—grimy, focused, funny, always illuminating—animates the odd and overlooked. With humility and curiosity, Ortiz is moved to learn how to see more clearly both as lover and as griever. Speaking the names of things—animals, skeletons, teeth, feathers—is a way of connecting with the complications of being alive. How does the stillness of an exhibit encourage us toward love and joy? Does studying details increase the pleasure of felt experience? Ortiz is paying close attention to love while death and sorrow lurk nearby. “Survival is the mutest joy,” she writes. Guide to the Exhibit looks outward and reflects, examines, links, and contradicts.
Chase Twichell says, “In language that is spare, precise, and at times wonderfully, subtly strange, Ortiz works in the overlap between self and world, showing us that time does not honor human consciousness, nor even recognize it. Yet the world is all we have, and what we are is part of it. We are not its masters, and the attempt to hold onto things by saving, describing, and labeling them, is doomed. We’ll lose what we love. This hard-won understanding is the tough heart of this piercing, memorable book, which, like any memorial, is simultaneously a celebration of life and an elegy.”
Lisa Allen Ortiz was born and raised in Mendocino County, California. Her poems and translations have appeared in Narrative, Best New Poets 2013, Beloit Poetry Journal, and The Literary Review. She is the author of two chapbooks: Turns Out and Self Portrait as a Clock. She lives in Santa Cruz where she teaches creative writing to middle school students. This is her first book.